Jennifer Finney Boylan, James Boylan. Warner Books, $19.99 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-446-67417-1
Comic novelist Boylan (The Constellations) takes a road trip on the elite New England college circuit with four interviewing high-school seniors and three incompetent adults, all in a Winnebago, and along the way manages to drive his farcical premise into the ground. The story focuses on confused young Dylan, who feels as inadequate as his spineless father, Ben, a widower reeling from the bankruptcy of his computer business. Dylan hides a secret from Ben (it's given away almost immediately, though the author keeps trying to wring suspense from it), shared by his partying jock cousin Juddy, son of Ben's brother, Lefty, a wealthy car salesman who resents Ben for attending college. Juddy is a partier, and fencing makes him feel like a superhero--as it should when Harvard woos him so obsequiously. Filling out the cast of stock characters are Lefty's new wife, Chloe, a gold digger seeking a tuition sugar daddy for her daughter Allison, a pretty musician; Allison; and Allison's boyfriend, Polo MacNeil, a haughty Manhattanite who says things like ""my good man"" and ""don't you know."" These characters wander across college campuses (which only incidentally affect the story) playing out tired parts and plots: missing Harvard because of Boston's traffic, teaching each other platitudes and overreacting to petty dramas. Throughout, character and plausibility serve the author's wants rather than the story's needs. This comedy is much too broad to go deep. Film rights to New Line Cinema. (Sept.) FYI: The author teaches at Colby, one of the featured colleges. A portion of the book's proceeds will go to the J. Finney Boylan Scholarship in the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University.
Reviewed on: 08/31/1998