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Faustus toils thanklessly at an august midwestern university in Hynes's latest dispatch from the culture wars academic division. Adding injury to insult, Nelson Humboldt loses a finger in a freak Nelson Humboldt is a lecturer at a small rural school down on his luck when his finger gets severed in a freak accident.

The doctors can reattach it, but strangely now he can control anyone by His television criticism has appeared in Mother Jones and the Utne Reader. But the tradeoff for a little discomfort is great: Nelson can now compel other people to do his bidding whenever he touches them with the infernal digit.

James Hynes Reviewed

The resulting plot, which lurches from one wild tableau to the next, simply proves once more that hell is other people with tenure. But Hynes Publish and Perish, , etc. There was a problem adding your email address. Please try again.

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Soon Nelson will realize that his reattached finger has the power to make people do his bidding with a single touch. At first, Nelson uses his magical digit as an instrument of good.

His family does not get kicked out of university housing. He gets his lectureship back. Then he sets to work to get tenure for his office mate, Vita Deonne, his only friend in the department. But somewhere along the line, Nelson loses his sense of purpose, along with his innate selflessness and decency, and gets wildly ambitious. He embarks on a mad quest for tenure, for power, for extramarital sex. And along with Nelson, the story itself loses its bearings and begins to spin wildly out of control.

Stephen Exley

Hynes has brought us into the insular world of academia, introduced us to its nutty denizens many of them, I understand, are parodies of real academics, familiar to some, though not to me , made us kinda love them and their wacky theoretical squabbles, and then stripped them of their personalities and made them dance. It's dizzying -- and something of a betrayal.


Hynes' literary reach ultimately exceeds his grasp. But his heavenly ambitions -- and passages of glittering satire, shining here and there like stars -- are admirable nonetheless.

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