The Dean's List
Jon Hassler
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A line is drawn between liking and loathing school reunions. Whether you attended an Ivy League college or received your quality college education elsewhere. Time has a way of preserving and altering everything.

The Dean's List
Jon Hassler
Ballantine Books
432 pages
March 1998
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

Jon Hassler has long been a favorite in the Upper Midwest for his insightful and dryly comedic tales of life in fictional small towns of Minnesota. His last novel, Rookery Blues, told of a small state college and the memorable academics who peopled it in the late Sixties. The Dean's List revisits Rookery twenty-five years later to see how time has left its mark on professor Leland Edwards and his beloved college. Much has changed, yet much has remained endearingly the same.

Leland is Dean Edwards now, but still trying to keep now-President O.F. Zastrow's ignorance from bringing any more ridicule down upon RSC. Leland is the only member of the infamous Icejam Quartet left at Rookery, but the daughter of his old alcoholic painter friend Connor is still there, and is inexplicably determined to destroy Leland's life and career with mysterious letters of complaint and concocted sexual harassment suits. Leland's been married and divorced, had a child and lost him in the interim between Rookery Blues and The Dean's List. The one constant -- other than the college -- in his life is his mother, the beloved radio personality Lolly. As The Dean's List picks up with Leland's story, we find him believing himself to be falling in love with moody little Mary Sue Bloom, new to Rookery's Education department.

Leland's got his hands full with his budding romance, his mother's failing health, his ex-wife's flirtations and his nemesis L.P. Connor's vendetta. He must deal with declining enrollments and budget squabbles. He has to try to prevent the Athletic department from selling its collective soul to a second-rate beer in the name of new hockey uniforms. He's trying, in short, to save "Paul Bunyan's Alma Mater" (the title being one of President Zastrow's more spectacular bungles) from extinction. An unexpected invitation from former Icejam Quartet member Peggy Benoit seems the answer to his prayers. Peggy is acquainted with the nation's foremost living poet, Richard Falcon, who has agreed to appear at Rookery State. Leland grasps at this unforeseen chance to put Rookery on the Midwest's academic map.

The great Richard Falcon arrives several weeks early to work on what will be the culmination of his entire career, a book-length memoir poem entitled "Fording the Bee." A demanding, brilliant, enigmatic man, Richard Falcon is not exactly what Leland expected, but their relationship recalls to Leland his father, who died when Leland was only fourteen years old. When Richard Falcon confides in Leland that he's on the run from the IRS and is evading the attentions of a menacingly persistent female stalker, he sets off a tangled chain of events that will forever change Leland's perceptions of himself, his friends and his family.

Told in the same dry tone as Rookery Blues, The Dean's List brings a sense of quiet happy closure to the story begun in the earlier novel. It would be wise to read Rookery Blues first, not because The Dean's List is too weak to stand on its own, but because together the two novels are a much richer story than either alone could be. Hassler, a Minnesotan who reveals himself a bit in the character of Leland Edwards, has put a more obviously personal part of his own life into The Dean's List. The great poet Richard Falcon, like Hassler himself, has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. That fact makes The Dean's List all the more poignantly memorable.

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