Lying Bastard by Clint Margrave.
This is a decent addition to the long tradition of humorous campus set literary fiction. Lying Bastard tackles the absurdity and farce of teaching at Long Beach Community College, California. This novel is a lot of fun but there are plenty of serious points about the state of modern higher education in the United States, (and for that read the wider western education system). If you are expecting to find more sense in the education sector than the wider world your hopes will be dashed by this novel. This is about everything from crumbling buildings to cruddy beaurcracy to claws out internal politics and is a master classes in how young minds are stifled and teachers worn down. It’s about systems that aren’t very good at recognising people’s need and their individuality. In this modern technology rich, personal time poor world everything seems more complex and confused. This satirical tale is insightful and thought provoking, you may not agree with the arguments that underpin the plot by you can engage with it. Lying Bastard is a light but erudite read, it navigates the interior world of higher education for the general fiction reader but insiders will delight in the minutae.
On page one anti-hero Berlin Saunders is to be found lying on the floor playing dead as a gunman runs amok across the campus. Readers are instantly alerted to the satirical nature of the oncoming tale from Berlin’s preoccupation with a negative performance review received for his English Composition teaching only twenty minutes before the bullets started flying. Then, while listening for the killer’s return, Berlin questions his decision to play dead. After all he’s been contemplating suicide all term, (although the note has been a problem due to writer’s block), his distress has gone unnoticed. He wonders whether the gods have taken the decision over life and death out of his hands, his fate to be decided by a ‘crazed’ murderer. Ok, so this is not totally in good taste, good satire rarely is, equally, it isn’t mocking of mass shootings, the novel questions the ‘how?’ and the ‘why?’
Berlin thinks Henry Crawford, head of department, has dubious reasons for slating his teaching at the performance review. Until the start of the current term Berlin was going out with Kathy Stone. They broke up when he admitted that he hated The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, (sexism and political correctness are themes in the novel). Stone is now seeing Crawford. Berlin thinks he knows who the masked gunman is, although admitting that, if he survives, would draw criticism for not having spotted the warning signs. Anyway Berlin thinks the killer is former soldier, now one of his students, Adam Rowan.
On the day of the shooting Berlin is only in class because he swapped a shift with Tom Corona. Tom, the younger, more ambitious, much keener lecturer, is still looking for the holy grail of higher education – full-time tenure. Tom is prepared to kiss ass and join any available committee to make himself useful to that end. Berlin has given up on ambition, knowing talent and hard work aren’t enough in the eyes of management. The novel tells the story of that fateful term from the introduction of Berlin to his new students at Long Beach Community College, including Adam Rowan:
‘The students cared even less than he [Berlin] did about being there.’
The chapter titles are entertaining puns and word plays, the crack in the liberty bell a long running metaphor, the overall tone is witty but the novel questions what’s education is for and is about the current state of things. Lying Bastard is about the lies we tell ourselves and the assumption and misinterpretations we make of other people, about what it’s like to be a professor in modern education. An entertaining and perceptive read.
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Run Amok Press, ISBN: 9781733352611, paperback, May 2020.