Tuesday, July 14, 2009

College Culture

Reviewed by Derek Melleby

Roger Rosenblatt’s novel Beet (Harper Perennial, 2008) was written before the current economic recession, but its comic plot is even more realistic today. The story takes place at fictitious Beet, a small, liberal arts college in New England. Beet College suddenly loses its endowment, and the board of trustees is called upon to make major changes or they run the risk of having to shut down the school entirely. Their solution is to start a faculty committee to develop a creative curriculum that will increase enrollment by giving Beet a marketing advantage. English professor Peace Porterfield is asked to take charge of the committee and work with an impossible cast of professors from diverse departments.

Beet
is a sarcastic, sometimes cynical, comedy about higher education in the 21st century. Rosenblatt is clearly trying to make a statement about the direction of some American colleges. By using outlandish characters and subplots, he exposes some of the wrong turns colleges have taken in order to be more appealing to students. Themes such as political correctness, grade inflation, tolerance and many other issues on campus today are explored, giving the reader a unique, often funny, look into the ridiculousness that is found at some colleges today.

Rosenblatt’s purpose for writing, however, is not just to point out what has gone wrong in higher education. Through the characters and plot twists, he also is reminding readers of what is good, right, true and beautiful. At the end of the day, this novel is a plea for institutions of higher learning to return to the central purpose of educating young minds toward moral formation. Beet would be a good choice for someone looking for a summer/beach read that will also get you thinking about education and adolescent development. Similar to Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, Beet offers a unique window into current college culture.

1 comment:

Sam Van Eman said...

Sounds like a great read, Derek. I've seen the cover but didn't know about its contents. I hope to read it.