Books May 2007

New Fiction

More

Susan Coll’s new novel about the top-tier college-admissions game tries hard and amiably, but it needs to be wait-listed behind worthier spring fiction. Acceptance follows the luck of some affluent suburban-D.C. high-school seniors, including “AP Harry,” a charmless version of Michael J. Fox’s old Family Ties character, a kid so obsessed with getting into Harvard that he perceives the world through a compulsive syno‑ n­ymizing brought on by too much SAT prep: “He looked up and saw an extremely tall, thin (lanky, gangly, awkward) man with a shock of white hair …”

Carried by the bright overwriting of higher-end chick lit—coffee gets “swilled” instead of drunk, and headaches tend toward migraines—this novel is just as caught up in the application process as AP Harry himself. A reader can almost see Coll’s bulging files of clips and downloads about safety schools, weighted GPAs, National Merit scholars, student tour guides, alumni interviewers, the U.S. News list of top liberal-arts colleges, and those “résumé-enhancing” summer jobs that involve humbling service to Third World unfortunates. All of this homework chokes off narrative momentum: A second and more interesting plot, about the admissions office of Yates University in upstate New York, dies upon the ivy vine like an elective the overcommitted novelist has forgotten she’s signed up for. The book ends up being too busy to question seriously the very phenomenon it’s supposed to be satirizing—a predicament that proves ironic (paradoxical, conundrum-like).

Thomas Mallon is an Atlantic contributing editor. His newest book, Fellow Travelers, will be published this month.
Jump to comments
Presented by

Thomas Mallon’s books include the novels Two Moons and Aurora 7, as well as Rockets and Rodeos, a collection of essays.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?

How to avoid working through lunch, and diseases related to social isolation.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where Time Comes From

The clocks that coordinate your cellphone, GPS, and more

Video

Computer Vision Syndrome and You

Save your eyes. Take breaks.

Video

What Happens in 60 Seconds

Quantifying human activity around the world

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In