cover image THE CHEESE MONKEYS: A Novel in Two Semesters

THE CHEESE MONKEYS: A Novel in Two Semesters

, . . Scribner, $24 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-7432-1492-6

After 15 years of designing more than 1,500 book jackets at Knopf for such authors as Michael Crichton and Anne Rice, Kidd comes out with a novel of his own, proving that the best way to learn a skill is on the job. Kidd has succeeded in crafting an affecting and entertaining work both slap-happily funny and heartbreakingly sad. The story concerns one nameless teenaged boy who's beginning his freshman year at a generic state university. In a bold step for 1957, our man has decided to major in art, a choice that leaves his roommates asking, "No kidding? As a career?" The semester begins, and he ends up in Introduction to Drawing, along with two hilarious characters who are key to the book's charm: a sweet-as-pecan-pie innocent named Maybelle Lee, and Himillsy Dodd, a radical pip of a girl fed up with art as an institution. The trio dutifully endure a bizarre curriculum that includes sketching an aging, nude custodian and capturing the essence of a cat being doused with water. But the real "fun" begins second semester, when our heroes enroll in Winter Sorbeck's Introduction to Graphic Design class and learn to look at art and life in a different light. Sorbeck challenges, frightens and bullies, making a drastic impact on his students' lives. Channeling Holden Caulfield via David Sedaris, Kidd produces a stellar debut. Oh, and what exactly is a Cheese Monkey? Readers will have to just ask Himillsy Dodd. (Oct. 16)

Forecast:Any qualms readers may have about reading a novel written by a publishing insider will be put to rest once word gets out about this debut (and it will get out, not least because of the six-city author tour). It's obvious Kidd can stand on his own two feet.