Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hummingbirds / by Joshua Gaylord

To the casual eye, the Carmine-Casey Academy might resemble something closer to a party with a dress-code rather than a prep school. Both students and teachers alike tend to treat education as a secondary discipline, employing far more time and energy toward the gossipy social side of things. One such teacher is Leo Binhammer who, when he's not entertaining thoughts about his pupils and how best to apply his own personal charms, is recuperating from an affair his wife had with a fellow teacher, Ted Hughes. Things are better now, after the awkwardness, with Ted and Leo actually forming an unusual camaraderie during the whole thing (matrimony isn't a big deal at Carmine-Casey where half the faculty is divorced and the other half is perpetually occupied in extramarital trysts, affairs, flirtations, etc.). And so, as the new term begins, things are relatively back to normal for Leo as he basks in the glamour of being the only male in the English department, and one of only a handful of male teachers at the school.
Meanwhile, student queen-bee Dixie Doyle and her peers lounge outside the school, Lolita-like in their plaid skirts and suggestive accessories, shamelessly attempting to attract the attention of male teachers like Binhammer and Ted Hughes, who just can't help being that irresistably appealing. But Binhammer, at least, has his eye elsewhere. Liz Warren, one of the few consummate students, and a budding playwright, catches the eye of the literature teacher who subtly tries putting the moves on her before his chummy rival, Ted, can do the same. Before long, things get complicated as the love quadrangle involving the demure Liz, sultry Dixie, Mr. Binhammer and Ted Hughes produces inevitable confusion, competitition and dangerous relationships.
On one hand this book is like a prime-time soap opera, it's scandalous content never without a dull moment. On the other, it's kind of sick. Gaylord is a bit blasé about everything, describing intimate details--most of which concern the seedy personal desires of teachers for their students and vice-versa--with phlegmatic nonchalance, his mood and atmosphere lacking any real seriousness or threatening elements. At times, there's a sense that the story takes place in some bizarre, inconsequential parallel universe where the worst that could happen would never really happen. Bad things, when they do happen, just aren't felt as sincerely, if they even register at all. The multi-perspective style entertains though, and the book's salaciousness will satisfy more than a few readers.

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