Book on college trips funny, shallow

by Sarah Warlick | 10/14/98 5:00am

James Finney Boylan's fourth and newest novel, "Getting In," is the story of four high school seniors who think they're ready for college. But first they have to get into one.

The book presents humorous, albeit shallow and unrealistic episodes of the group as they travel from one campus to another. With a convoluted and predictable plot, the book lacks a considerable amount of substance, but its light tone saves it from melodrama.

The four students in question are Juddy, Polo, Allison and Dylan, all of whom more or less represent stereotypical teenagers. Juddy is a beer-guzzling redneck with the potential to take Harvard's fencing team to the top.

Polo, Juddy's cultured and sophisticated opposite, also desperately wants to get into Harvard but keeps missing his interview. Then there's Allison, Juddy's stepsister and Polo's girlfriend. She's a talented musician but is afraid she won't get into college unless she loses her virginity first.

Meanwhile, Dylan is overcoming his mother's suicide and her affair with his Uncle Lefty (Juddy's father) who is, of course, also on the trip. Dylan's father, Ben, and Allison's mom, Chloe, round out the ensemble.

Together this bizarre family tours nine esteemed New England schools (including Dartmouth) in Uncle Lefty's Winnebago.

Of course, there are lessons to be learned by everybody. Chloe, who had been scheming to kill her husband Lefty, discovers independence on her own terms. Ben realizes that sometimes taking chances is the only way to get what he wants.

Lefty finally learns to look at things for what they truly are while at the same time not taking advantage of the things he depends on most.

The teenagers, in different ways, learn that acceptance is not about grades, test scores, extracurriculars or even interviews. What it's really about is overcoming that awful feeling of not belonging and, tragically, realizing that it's never entirely possible.

Despite being both truthful and valuable, Boylan's assertion that the college application process is a learning experience is one big cliche. His analogies lack imagination and are so blatant that they cheat readers of the opportunity to discover the novel's message by themselves.

Predictability is the nature of this novel. The use of foreshadowing is prevalent, leaving few surprises in its wake.

The characters are well developed but boring, and their fates are exactly what the reader would guess them to be.

Boylan, an Associate Professor of English and an Associate Chair of the English Department at Colby College, obviously has some understanding of a typical college environment, but many of the college-set situations he relates in "Getting In" are unrealistic.

Dylan's admissions officer at Williams College goes into labor during his interview. Dartmouth's admissions officer fails to show up for Dylan's interview so he fills out an evaluation form for Allison and leaves. Polo and Juddy meet two waitresses in Cambridge (Harvard grads, of course) and rent a hotel room for an orgy.

The saving grace of this novel is its humor. Comedy saves the book from becoming not only tedious but depressing. The dialogue is concise and witty; in some cases even laugh-out-loud funny.

The situations, as unrealistic as they may be, are certainly entertaining. Overall, the book is a good light read, perfect for a study break.

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