MOO: A Novel, By: Jane Smiley

Strange name for a strange book! This was my first experience in reading anything written by Jane Smiley and it was a huge disappointment.

Jane Smiley won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel Thousand Acres. I haven’t read that book, but assuming that she must be an excellent writer, I came home with Moo from a local book sale, and thought it would make an amusing read over the holidays.

Moo is the story of one year on campus at an American university. Should be a real page turner, right? Wrong!

Here’s what I didn’t like about Moo. There were so many “main” characters that it took 60 pages to introduce them all – in a mere 400 page book. At least 6 students, assistant professors, professors, grant specialists, the President of the college, a cafeteria worker, an industrial tycoon, an old farmer, and a hog named Earl. Smiley was determined to write a contemporary novel – mix it up with blacks, Hispanics, old, young, homosexuals, lesbians, rich, poor, Christian fanatics, whining liberals, you name it…it was all there at this rather ordinary mid-west university. The problem is, all the characters talked the same and acted the same. I’m not even sure what most of them looked like except one was very pale, and one was going bald. Just the students alone were hard to distinguish from each other..Keri, Sherry, Mary. Jane Smiley has an incredible command of the English language. It’s too bad she put it to such poor use. And she sure seems to know a lot about horticulture, animal science, and various aspects of economics, but dry scientific facts do not make a good novel.

So aside from offering almost zero character development, there wasn’t much of a plot either; random events and a culmination of various boring personal episodes tied together in a bland, obscure manner, to a climax that was satisfactory only in the aspect that the book was finally over. Most of the scenes were contrived and hardly resembled reality. In fact, the only scene in the entire book that resonated with total clarity was the lesbian sex scene, that strangely had no significance to the central theme of the story. Smiley sure seemed to know what she was talking about there and painted a very graphic, detailed, description.

My advice; skip this book. If you want to read a good college campus story with lots of unforgettable characters and a great plot, try I am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe.

Rated 1.5 Stars. I use a rating scale of 1 to 5. Books rated 1, I seldom finish; books rated 2, I usually finish but would never recommend to anyone. 5 is the highest rating.

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