Benefit

Siobhan Phillips. Bellevue, $17.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-942658-99-3

In Phillips’s incisive if plodding debut, a stalled literature scholar pulls back the veil on university hierarchies and social privilege. Laura Graham, after a long history of rejection, is an adjunct professor with a CV that includes a Weatherfield fellowship at Oxford University. After she loses her job and watches a peer rise in the ranks, Laura second-guesses the value of life in academia. She reconnects with Heather, a friend from Weatherfield who encourages her to write a commemorative essay explaining the history of Ennis Weatherfield to be distributed to guests at a centennial gala. Laura accepts, and the job fuels her investigations of the Weatherfield foundation, which uncovers previously unknown histories of its founders, one of whom floundered at Oxford and paid others to do his work. Though there is too much backstory on Laura’s own life, with long chapters on her childhood and friendship with a colleague, Phillips succeeds at capturing the paranoia and peculiarities of academic politics, which tend to favor those already at an advantage. It’s a little bumpy, but devotees of the campus novel may want to take a look. (Apr.)
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