The Devil and Webster

In The Devil and Webster, Jean Hanff Korelitz (You Should Have Known) chronicles a year in the life of a small college destabilized by a long-running student protest.

Naomi Roth's handling of a residence hall demonstration that involved a transgender student elevated her to the presidency of Webster College. Her tenure has been largely peaceful and productive ever since, but as a former dissenting student herself, Naomi respects activism among Webster's undergraduates. When she learns that a group of students has occupied the quad to protest the denial of tenure to a popular professor, she's initially unfazed.

But as Naomi discovers that Webster's students are more inclined to air their grievances on social media than in dialogue with the college president, she grows frustrated. While the college administration defends the confidentiality of tenure decisions, the protesters read sinister motives into the lack of transparency. The conflict begins to overshadow everything else at Webster, prompting critical reconsideration of the college's centuries of history and of the performance of its first female president.

The Devil and Webster can be read as a suspense novel seasoned with social commentary or as a plot-driven academic satire. Korelitz excels in both directions. Her writing has an almost old-fashioned formality that fits the college setting, but her story is very much of the moment. Webster College is a small world where hot-button issues--representation, discrimination and free speech, among others--loom large. The political climate at the time of this novel's publication lends it a striking immediacy. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

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