Burning Down the House
Walker, October, 2001.
Hardcover, 290 pages.
Associate professor Nick Hoffman has unwittingly become a celebrity at the State University of Michigan at Michiganopolis. His penchant for tripping over dead bodies (and subsequently solving the associated crime) annoys the hell out of the school administration, and Nick's chances for the much longed-for tenure are looking pretty slim. In the midst of this professional turmoil enters Juno Dromgoole, a visiting professor whom Nick finds irresistible (given the fact that Nick is gay and in a committed relationship, this is especially alarming to him). Juno implores Nick to help her find out who has been stalking her. As Nick gets more involved with the over-the-top Juno (she thinks leopard print cat suits are casual day wear), the more torn he becomes. Why is he so obsessed with Juno? Will he ever get tenure? Or should he leave teaching altogether?
Burning Down the House certainly has several mysteries in it, but the focus of the book is really Nick's growing midlife crisis, and the effect that his actions are going to have on the rest of his career and his professional life. As he struggles with his attraction to Juno and his growing disgust with the bizarre politics at SUM (Whiteness Studies are on the horizon and the entire faculty is in an uproar over one of the secretary's "Diversity Tree" which flouts the rule against Christmas trees in the workplace), Nick himself seems to be changing in subtle ways. He even considers buying a gun -- after all, Juno has one and he does seem to be keeping company with murderers quite a bit lately. The book raises more questions than it answers, but fans are hardly likely to notice or care. It is Lev Raphael's smooth prose, brilliant wit and skill at creating vivid characters which brings readers back time and time again.
--Claire E. White
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This review was published in the Oct. - Nov., 2001 of The Internet Writing Journal.
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