BOOKS: ACADEMIC BURLESQUE

FOR THESE PROFS, THE BEST REVENGE IS ON EACH OTHER

Fitful irritation and gossip, gusting to contempt; jealousy, plotting and backbiting, holding steady at obsessional hatred and spasms of baroque fury, with likelihood of budget cuts: this is the wind chart, as any veteran of the higher-ed dodge can attest, of collegial relations in a well-ordered university English department. Or so say the profs who write about such matters in satirical novels, most of them set on campuses not readily distinguishable from their own.

The latest and one of the funniest of these vengeful academic burlesques is Richard Russo's Straight Man (Random House; 391 pages; $25). Russo, a former professor at...

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