Book Review: Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall

Previously rejected by an anonymous online zine

 

edith-vaneSuzette Mayr’s Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall is an attempt at allegory: One of my favorite forms of writing. However, unlike one of the more famous motifs utilized to date, in the form of Voltaire’s Candide, Mayr’s work lacks poetry. She lays bare the grueling workload of teachers everywhere, with a tendency toward elaborating scents and sounds to the point of hyperbole. Normally, this bodes well for authors under the tools of their employ, but Edith Vane lacks weight. She is… it is… all novelty and no substance. Feel free to read it for yourself and pick my bones clean with your infatuation for the tale.

Here’s how it goes.

Edith Vane has worked for the University of Inivea for seven years and has just achieved tenure. She is finishing up a book and is full of piss and vinegar, stowing away fastidious trinkets to add to her arsenal of trendy apparel to wear as armor against the perils of the new school year.

With the help of her telecommutative BalanceWell therapist, she will build her own foundation and arrange its furnishments, an affirmation she hopes to see through to fruition, but in the end, she winds up on the wrong side of the fence and instead of becoming more like her superiors (wolves in Hangaku heels) as she had wished, she transforms into a rabbit, scratching herself in the burrow of her ex-lover, Carol’s, “form” waiting to wake up from the living nightmare she’s boxed herself in.

Here we have all of the elements of your English professor’s fifth novel: Contradiction. Allegory. Moral debauchery. Substance abuse. Sex. Symbolism.

I forgot to mention the whole Stephen King, Rose Red aspect; where the school shapeshifts and maggots like grains of rice rain down from the ceiling in times of stress. I think she did this to herself. It must be in her head. Solipsism to the extreme. How else could she shout apart a set of doors, then later trap herself inside her version of Sunnyvale High? She’s in control of her own destiny. Edith tells us so. So, why doesn’t she just up and leave?

“If I’m at work, then it looks like I’m working…”

Productivity in the form of a malingering malaise. She’s always late to classes. Yet, that’s the crux of the novel. That’s the kicker. She extols productivity. In reality, she’s a lush. An aphid sucking on the morsels of a life left lingering behind. She picks up the crumbs and puts them in her mouth.

She hates working there. She loves books. She selfishly worries over her AAO in neglect of actually teaching her students anything. And she can’t grade papers. And she can’t write. She’s the worst. One of the most annoying characters I’ve had the privilege to grumble about, chastising her contradictions aloud while my husband laughs. No doubt I’m disturbing his more educational forays into the mind of Cormac McCarthy.

“Other people in other offices on her floor were just more sensitive about it.”

No, lady, you’re the one who thinks the school’s trying to eat you alive. Pick a side. Like I said, contradictory…

Perhaps I’ve strayed too far from the actual plot.

So, she’s going about her life–loodoodoo–sees her ex, gets hot flashes, gets a good whiff of something stinky, the patterns on her new blouse shoot up around her neck to choke off her air supply, while her bosses, the higher ups, beat her down every step of the way. They don’t want her to succeed. And maybe that’s why she’s treating her students like shit, too, so they can get a taste of what working in academia feels like, though she makes it clear these kids take her classes as a way to get an easy A. So, how much effort is she pushing into her career, anyway?

If Mayr were any better at conveying her disgust with the educational system, she might be the next Jonathan Lethem, but her themes are too reminiscent of Joyce Carol Oates, and her writing falls short of the mark, pitting her with the likes of Sloane Crosley. Pick pick picking at the seams of the mundane until they burst forth with fornicating rabbits to envelope the whole of humanity all while sitting on the sidelines, safe in her comfy little wino husk hovel, that small space she occupies in her shiny corner of the universe.

“Sometimes after teaching her class she sits at her desk in Leonardo’s office and thinks so intensely about the blankness of her life she forgets to go home until deep in the night; roaming Crawley Hall as a nocturnal being almost provides a kind of solace, as though the evil of the building, of the job, approves of her so long she doesn’t try to indulge in a life elsewhere.”

It’s these kinds of sentences, bloated with overindulgence, that can get a writer in trouble in college. Yet, she explains a lot, here. This very sentence sums up the theme of the book.

Dr. Edith Vane, you sad sack. You vain little women, you. You’re stuck in time. You can’t spend your life memorizing the moves of Beulah Crump-Withers (her thesis/novel-in-progress), a woman who is in all likelihood a figment of your and Lesley’s (her former professor, now boss) imagination, then expect to become an obscure hero like she “was”. You run up and down six flights of stairs every day because you’re afraid you might find yourself sweating, alone and naked, trapped in an elevator shaft for 88 minutes (this is your life! You’re stuck in an elevator!) and your students don’t respect you. Your biological clock is ticking, tick tock. And you’re not as cool as Alice, or Carol, who figured out the secret in wasting away in the form of a hare. Or rabbit. Halfway through the novel, Mayr propends to use the word “rabbit” after she tires of the “hares”, indicative that there is some semblance of character development here? No such luck.

I guess what she’s trying to say is “eat or be eaten”. Become a hound or become a hare. After all she’s been through, watching her colleagues waste away, witnessing the paranormal world come colliding with what was a regular ol’ 9-5, just last year, this time around she chose the latter and succumbed to the numbness of the place.

“She settles into the soil, her left ear suddenly itchy. Perhaps a twig fragment or crumb of dirt.

She scratches her ear with her hind leg.

Waits.”

Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall is indubitably a waste of time. At least I had fun poking at it. Now, where did I put that Peter Heller novel I was reading…

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