TOLSTOY LIED by Rachel Kadish: A witty dish about departmental politics that is too slow at the beginning

I can see why a friend of mine raves about Rachel Kadish. TOLSTOY LIED turns out to be a funny, smart and pitch-perfect rendition of office politics in an English Department in an un-named University in New York City. But even as I enjoyed reading this wry account of love and academia for a thirty-something not-yet-tenured English professor, there were a couple of problems that I feel are worth mention.


The novel hit a bump for me just after the beautifully written and funny beginning, which introduces us to Tracy Farber, the thirty-three-year-old and happily-single English-professor protagonist. Ms. Kadish then does a graceful segue from Tracy’s interior monolog into academic reality when a student knocks on her door. But shortly after that the novel loses tension as her best pal Jeff appears, and engages her in a sophomoric dialogue about ties. We meet the longest-running denizens of this department (nicknamed ‘Grub’ and ‘Paleozoic’ by Tracy and Jeff), in a long passage which sounds like an unmotivated rant against Old White Men. Personally, as a woman, I feel a great deal of sympathy for Tracy’s predicament. But I couldn’t see what the point of it was. Even worse, it slowed the novel down to a crawl just when it was important to keep the pacing going to draw the reader in. It was almost like reading an information dump in an historical novel. The problem could have been solved by having this section cut into pieces and slipped into the novel so that the reader could have received the information needed while keeping the pacing tight.


My other complaint is that it takes too long to meet the antagonist, all of forty-six pages according to my Kindle edition. This perhaps wouldn’t have been such a problem, except that the  novel didn’t come to life until the entrance of Joanne Miller. That makes the pacing too slow between pages 14 and 46, too long for many readers. But once Joanne appears, Ms. Kadish’s writing is masterly, and I have to say I am glad I stuck through those thirty-two pages of relatively uninteresting stuff. Because from then on, TOLSTOY LIED is a dishy ride, and includes a delicious twist at the end. Four stars.

A Bookclub recommendation. 

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