Roger Rosenblatt’s satire of academia, Beet, is set in a New England college town populated with enough horrible puns to bring back the Borscht Belt: Beet College’s symbol is a pig, so a mascot named Latin roves a campus where the student paper is the Pig’s Eye (“Beet Is Our Beat”), undergrads pull all-nighters at the Bacon Library, and townies dine at the This Little Piggy Muncheonette. Rosenblatt is done amusing himself with all this porkiness pretty quick, though, and his novel soon gets to mocking more serious matters like student-coddling teachers, political correctness, and disappearing endowments. Lit prof Peace Porterfield is assigned the thankless task of saving Beet by restructuring its curriculum—which needs help badly, stuffed as it is with non-disciplines like Ethnicity, Gender, and Television Studies. (One student’s thesis is “No Transgender Asians on Will & Grace: An Oversight or an Insult?”) Porterfield gets attacked by sheeplike professors and students who love to protest but don’t know what they’re protesting, and when the various plot threads finally converge, Beet becomes very funny, if also a little ridiculous—not for nothing do we learn that Porterfield’s big on the Marx Brothers. Rosenblatt gets away with it because he knows when to dial back the comedy, using Peace to argue that critical thinking is disappearing from the classroom—and, perhaps more dangerous, from the admin building as well. Whatever’s prompted Rosenblatt’s frustrations, he’s found a way to voice them without sounding like an Allan Bloom-ish crankcase.
Rosenblatt discusses and signs copies of his work at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 22, at Politics and Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. (202) 364-1919.