17 October 2009

Moo, by Jane Smiley

I've been on a kind of Jane Smiley kick since I read A Thousand Acres a year and a half ago. Or at least it seems that way. I had read a novel of hers back in high school, Duplicate Keys, and really enjoyed it, and I loved Acres, so I kind of started working my way through her oeuvre. The next one I did was Horse Heaven, which was good, but not as good as the others, and then I watched The Secret Lives of Dentists, which was based on a short story of hers and pretty much sucked, and then I tried reading 10 Days in the Hills and hated it after 15 pages, so I thought I was basically over it, but for some reason I picked up Moo and now I feel sort of done with Jane Smiley. It ended on a high note - Moo is definitely one of her better books (though Thousand Acres is still my favorite).

Moo has all the perks of Horse Heaven, but without the flaws. It's a massive, sprawling cast of characters, but they're successfully held together by the overarching frame of Moo University, and there aren't so many of them that you get totally confused as to who's who. It has only one animal character, the giant hog Earl, but he's a well written and very likeable creature. It has Smiley's typical warm, pleasant prose, and a bit of the ironic humor. Although a lot of the satire seems kind of outdated, it's interesting nonetheless, and kind of a nice time capsule of its particular moment ('89). It's probably more entertaining to those familiar with the strange inner world of universities, but it's not quite as dorky as, say, David Lodge novels (which I love).

All in all, a warm and pleasant read, if a rather long one.

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