04 December 2007

The writing's on the wall (of the classroom).

Writers make conscious choices.
--my eighth-grade English teacher

John doesn't like his job that much -- his underlings are restless and the meetings are a nightmare. But his beautiful coworker seems to be interested in him for now, and he's about to get a promotion which should make his parents slightly happier. As long as he can play along with the small acts of skulduggery that keep the corporation going, he'll be fine. But when John is forced to arbitrate between two of his underlings in a routine review, a small act of rebellion turns into a witch hunt in which bribery and back-stabbing are the best ways to get ahead.

You could set the novel about which I have just written in pretty much any corporate environment and create a believable thriller. In the case of author Andrew Trees, though, his subject is an exclusive New York City private school, John's job that of high school English teacher and his underlings restless, amoral seniors in his Jane Austen seminar. ACADEMY X, the novel Mr. Trees wrote about private school, was the impetus for his real-life forced termination from his job as a history teacher at real-life New York City private school Horace Mann. (Trees is now suing the school for breach of contract and defamation, and apparently the head of school confirmed the book was the reason for his firing.)

So, was it worth it? After all, the typical pattern is, quit bookworthy job, write tell-all. (See PRADA, THE DEVIL WEARS.) When I heard Trees was fired, I felt that perhaps the punishment was unjust, but the key to his firing is right there in the text: In the elite world of Academy X, basically the school in the GOSSIP GIRL series as told by John Grisham, money is the answer to everything and students are treated like customers to be pleased. Donors' and trustees' kids get breaks, and the college counseling office -- changed from "admissions" after angry parents of a safety-school kid sued the school -- can basically tell teachers what to do. The book gives many examples of parents prevailing over teachers, but if you were a parent and found out your child's teacher wrote a novel that portrayed a similar (but fictional) high school in a negative light, what would you do? What if you were as rich and powerful as your fictional counterparts? I didn't find anything in the novel offensive, but there's a lot of evil going on and some very cringe-inducing moments.

John gradually wakes to this system with the help of a brainy senior named Gunter, who calls the innocent teacher Candide -- just one of many, many literary allusions in this novel. Still, ACADEMY X is familiar enough to both the corporate thriller and the job-from-hell genre to not be a great book. It shows some promise, but it still left me wondering about Trees' thought process in deciding to find a publisher while he was still employed by people who would find the book unflattering, and in keeping with the nefarious dealings of the fictional school, seek to quiet the naysayer. I can only refer to the mantra of one of my old teachers.

This entry was composed in longhand on the C train. Thanks to my fellow riders for not looking at me funny.

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