24 November 2014

Student Body by Rafeeq O. McGiveron

 With a loving wife and three young children, the glib, cocky, but well-liked Rick O'Donnell seems to have a promising future ahead of him.

Yet the gifted doctoral student also hides a desperate secret: The previous spring, during a difficult time in his marriage, when it seemed his wife would scarcely even look at him anymore, the lonely man fell into a brief, passionate affair with a beautiful girl who had been his own student just the semester before, and who now is a fellow teaching assistant in the English Department, with an office right down the hall from his.

Rick's interactions with the intelligent, sable-haired Lauren actually had been completely professional when she was in his own class, and after ending the affair that unexpectedly followed, he has committed himself most purposefully to his marriage once again. But now a simple clerical error suddenly brings the attention of Rick's supercilious and overbearing supervisor. Unless the young man can head off the looming investigation by proving, quickly and conclusively, that there truly had been no hint of favoritism in his professional actions, surely the unrelated but equally damning affair will be revealed. His once-promising career, his marriage, and perhaps even his life itself all are in grave danger.

Sensual, poignant, and introspective, "Student Body" is a frank and intimate character study of hubris, desire, and yet also devotion. Witty and allusive and lyrical, filled with sensitivity and selfishness and self-reproach, the novel explores life and death and guilt and redemption. In a way, Rick's choices have been made long before, for good or for ill, but it is this harrowing week and a half which will decide the deeply conflicted man's entire future...
I am very conflicted regarding this book.  I think the plot held a lot of promise and could have really excelled had it been given a chance to really flow freely.  It is clear the author is highly intelligent; not only with the character development that he used but with the way he mixed words and used language that is not common to the average reader.  While it was a beautiful read, I felt the style was not the proper choice for such a topic that demanded more emotions and less of a poetic feel. 
Rick is really at the cross roads.  At one point in his life he had everything but free time.  I found this to be the perfect quote for this period in his life.  “It was hard enough to juggle the two roles he usually played, that of scholar and teacher and that of husband and parent.”  As if that wasn’t enough, he was harboring a secret that could make everything he was working for crash down around him.  He knew that he would not only be cast out of the university, he would lose his wife and kids and the community would turn their back on him.  How could he have risked it all for an affair, now he ask how can he live with this secret buried so deep inside of him.  It was clear that regret and guilt was chipping away at his soul, yet I didn’t feel much honest remorse and responsibility for his choice.
Lauren, who was a student when the affair happened, is now a colleague with Rick at Michigan State University. She has kept her papers from her class and gives him notes using the symbols of their nicknames they used.  Panic begins to run wild in Rick as not only does he have to protect the crime he did, he is now face to face with that memory and the feelings he carries for Lauren daily.  At this point I want to say, I felt Rick’s weak emotional state was a bit overdone.  The author did a wonderful job at showing us his turmoil but I couldn’t wrap my brain around him being so dramatic regarding his affair.  He had made the choice, did the action and now it almost felt like he wanted to claim the role of a victim for his actions but we soon find out he isn’t the victim, Lauren is.
This will cast Rick into a new light regarding his reputation and send him on a higher level of stress and paranoia.  He can see the pieces of his life that he had guarded and tried to protect slowly slip away from him. The author created a great deal of drama and emotional angst in this story. It is a plot that you will want to read and experience for yourself.  I was addicted to each chapter so I could find out the conclusion to this book.
The conclusion not only angered me but left me feeling confused.  I think it if nothing else it validated that I don’t like Rick as a man and I really felt no sympathy for his situation.  I won’t go into detail here because it would ruin the ending for the reader but be prepared to be conflicted when you are done.  For me, there was no real closure for the reader.
 It was a perfect example of a formal writing style capturing the beauty of words.  It was also a very well planned out plot, even to the point of maybe some places were detailed so much it caused the story to drag for me.  If I had only one request of the author when writing his next novel, it would be to bring the level of formality down a little so the reader could actually feel the story and be in the moment with the characters.  Through the whole book, while I was enjoying the story idea, I felt like I was sitting in the arena seats watching the drama not living the parts and empathizing with the characters.  


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