A Dirty Dean and a Brazen Head

American Mischief

by Alan Lelchuk
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 501 pp., $8.95

The Manticore

by Robertson Davies
Viking, 310 pp., $7.95

Fifth Business

by Robertson Davies
New American Library, 320 pp., $1.25 (paper)

The State Farm Insurance Company runs an ad on television that depicts the morning walk of Bob Warnke, State Farm agent in Cozad, Nebraska. It is predictable fantasy about a small town where the old values still hold true, where insurance men are good neighbors and not crooks, and where the barber is not trimming anyone’s sideburns, moustache, or beard when he pauses to wave to his friend Bob. There is a town called Cozad in Nebraska, and undoubtedly the State Farm man there is named Bob Warnke. The ad, in that sense, is real. But it is nonetheless fantasy, hokum, and if Warnke and Cozad don’t know this, State Farm and its ad agency undoubtedly do.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is advertising Alan Lelchuk’s American Mischief by predicting it will be “the most praised, damned, and argued about novel” of 1973. A Dean at Cardozo College, right outside Boston, keeps a harem and tries to talk like Moses Herzog about the pleasures and pains of being a contemporary man who goes about and visits women. A student at Cardozo admires the Dean for the “honesty” of having a harem, and hates him for his old-fashioned politics and morality. So, after warming up his campaign of guerrilla politics by raping a fourteen-year-old virgin, murdering Norman Mailer, and sacking the Fogg Museum, the student kidnaps the Dean and a group of other literate liberals and carts them off to a hideout in New Hampshire where the older folks are to be educated in the task of reshaping America.

Now there is no Cardozo College, but there is a Brandeis, a Norman Mailer, a Fogg Museum, and a New Hampshire. Presumably there is a dean somewhere who keeps a harem, and there certainly are guerrilla students who would like to kidnap old-line liberals. But still, American Mischief is not a novel. It is as real as the State Farm ad, and one hopes that quick identification of its phoniness will give us better things to argue about in 1973.

Here is the Dean at work:

I placed my penis into the upperstory parking space. Her no’s continued, but as we proceeded (I gentle but decisive), they became mixed with heavyish breathing, thick groans…. To my bewilderment, for I was as delirious as she from the sudden trespass, her buttocks began to quiver wildly and relentlessly in pursuit of my prick. Her ass was ruthlessly demanding now (my hand in front had slipped lower to her vagina lips), the first sign of instinctive aggression let loose during our entire affair. I responded by plunging more fiercely. Her moaning—following perhaps the contours of the physical acrobatics—turned round the corner and settled into grateful plaintive whimpering, Kate’s first real signs of orgasm. As I came into her, I saw her tear-filled face buried nose-first into the pillow, with the memorable image of her mouth sucking fantastically upon her thumb. Afterward, she dropped into a deep sleep, which proved to be characteristic of such…

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