cover image The Ghost Apple

The Ghost Apple

Aaron Thier. Bloomsbury, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62040-527-7

Nearly 50 years after Bel Kaufman’s bestselling novel, Up the Down Staircase, depicted the hectic landscape of an inner-city high school via a variety of documents, Thier’s debut novel applies the same conventions to the world of higher education; specifically, that of a singular New England institution called Tripoli College. A letter from the late 18th century and a contemporary circular identify Tripoli as a school founded for Native Americans with a sister campus in the West Indies. Loopy course descriptions, the minutiae of faculty meetings, blurbs from the school newspaper, et al., create a delicious texture and form the structure of the book. The centerpiece of the novel is a hilariously deadpan chronology, full of conspicuous omissions, courtesy of a huge banana corporation; it begins with “Prehistory: Delicious bananas evolve in South or Southeast Asia.” Plot comes via two odd couples. The first is an elderly dean named Bill Brees (who has gone awkwardly undercover, posing as a student, and shares his “discoveries” in a blog) and an African-American student, Maggie Bell, who becomes an unlikely kindred soul for Brees. The second couple is the two linked campus settings: the sleepy elegance of the New England environment is sharply at odds with the turbulent West Indies campus, where Bill’s visit climaxes the novel. A droll comedy of modern manners, incisive without being angry, this satire within satire within satire will delight the right audience. (Mar.)