McMan, Ann. “Beowulf for Cretins: A Love Story”, Bywater Books, 2018.
Gay in Academia
Ann McMan hits close to home for me in her “Beowulf for Cretins” but I will get to that later. We meet Grace Warner, an English professor and want-to-be novelist who spends her days teaching four sections of “Beowulf for Cretins” to bored and disinterested students at one of New England’s “hidden ivy” colleges. Even though I spent two semesters in graduate courses on “Beowulf”, I must admit by having done so, my life has not been changed in one way. Grace had the misfortune of being dumped by her girlfriend and while flying across the country, she met Abbe who is extremely engaging and equally mysterious. Once the plane landed, Abbe and Grace enjoyed a no strings night of passion.
Upon returning to teaching at St. Albans in New England, she is greeted by the announcement of the appointment of the new president, a woman for the first time in the 165 year history of the school and Grace gets the shock of her life when Abbe… Entering Grace’s life is a dog with neuroses named Grendel and a woman named Ochre.
What a place for a romantic comedy especially when the world of academia that Edward Albee gave us in “Virginia Woolf” was so different, or was it? Writer Ann McMan also introduces us to a cast of characters that are both loveable and a bit off-track and she uses them as a way to look at human behavior in both its sanity and absurdity. I cannot decide which I enjoyed more– McMan’s prose or her story— but then I really do not have to make a choice. It’s great when the style and the plot come together to give a good read. It is, above all else, the writer’s wit that makes this a fascinating read. Bringing comedy, intellect and sensitivity is not an easy job and this also allows for different levels of understanding and interpretation. I could not help but notice that my reviewing colleague Grady Harp had the same to say. There is a bonus and that it is an observation of how we live today and everyone who reads this will find something of themselves here.