In a recent post, I sought recommendations for academic novels that I had not yet read. Someone suggested Elinor Lipman's My Latest Grievance, which I had not read, but now I have read it and I found it very entertaining on a recent trip. Thank you for the suggestion, anonymous commenter.
Much about the academic setting in the book was unfamiliar to me -- a small "inferior" college that has housemothers or houseparents in the (all-female) dorms, a scandal-prone new president with a suicidal wife and a "rude and fast" daughter etc., but I was interested in the main character, a teen-aged girl whose parents are both professors at the college.
At times, this girl is not very sympathetic to her parents. She describes her father as an "unappetizing specimen" who is also "one of those daft-looking professors".
Her mother is unfashionable, and an intellectual snob. The daughter delights in playing with their minds, subtly revealing their hypocrisies and inconsistencies, disconcerting and manipulating her parents. She is devious, and entertaining.
And she longs to have a more normal family and live a more normal life, although, at the same time, she likes being the center of attention (a kid growing up on a college campus where her parents are both professors and houseparents in a dorm) and having an unusual life.
I read some passages of the book to my daughter, the only child of two professors. She nodded and smiled at some of the descriptions of the eccentric parents who are rather intense about their work. She could also relate to the fact that, in the end, the fictional daughter appreciates her little family unit, their peculiar habits and traditions, and even her unfashionable parents. (In the novel, stylish people do not come off so well).
Recently, my daughter and I were talking about various things, and she said "Sometimes I think that I am the only thing keeping you two from spending all of your waking hours working." She concluded that she is therefore good for us.
I informed her that she was exaggerating a bit about how much we work when she is not around, like when she is away at summer camp, but I agreed that she is definitely good for us.
We have a lot of fun together, so she knows that she is not an annoying obstacle hindering us from doing what we'd rather be doing. Mostly she seems amused by her parents -- lucky for us -- and says that she thinks it is great that we have jobs that are perfectly suited for us. And, since she is a teen, she now typically adds something like "especially since it's hard to think of anything else you guys would be good at".*
Perhaps one day she will write an academic novel about being the only child of two Science Professor parents. The non-"hard" sciences are rather well represented in this genre, and part of the fun the daughter in the Lipman novel has in lampooning her parents relates to the fact that they are professors of psychology (the dad) and sociology (the mom). Of course, since Physical Science Professors are so cool, any lampooning of particular science professory characteristics will have to be highly fictionalized.
* The other day, while our car was stopped at a red light near campus, four pedestrians crossed in the crosswalk in front of our car. My daughter gazed at them for a moment and said "Those guys make Dad look really cool."**
** They were obviously engineers.
10 years ago