Friday, September 7, 2012

Best "School Book"

The New York Times asked its staffers to pick their favorite book ever about school settings.

Janet Maslin picked The War Between the Tates by the Writers Institute's newly-appointed New York State Author Alison Lurie.

“The War Between the Tates” is Alison Lurie’s funniest and most sharp-clawed novel. Published in 1974, and describing the step-by-step breakdown of a marriage between two academics, it is set at a place that’s called Corinth University but is instantly recognizable as Cornell. This book’s satirical bite is so sharp that when the Cornell Chronicle ran a piece about Lurie in 1998, the English department chair half-joked that “we professorial types worry that we might be satirized in a sequel” and expressed “gratitude” that her subsequent books had had other targets. Lurie concentrates on hostilities between Brian Tate, a self-satisfied political science professor, and Erica, his maddeningly stifled wife. At 40, Erica has a Radcliffe degree that has earned her the right to sit through faculty dinners and a husband who expects to be doted on. There are also two Tate teens, described tartly by Ms. Lurie as “nasty, brutish and tall.” The year is 1969. The Tates have hit the age of midlife crisis. It is almost inevitable for Brian to get involved with a student and for Erica to be galvanized by feminism as she fights back. Even with Vietnam War is its backdrop, artfully contrasted with the Tates’ form of combat, Lurie does her best strategic maneuvering on the home front. But it’s the depiction of all things Corinth that makes this tale of fraught academia so timeless and dead-on.

More picks in the NYT.