Russo is also the author of Nobody's Fool, which was made into a 1994 movie with Paul Newman, Bruce Willis and Melanie Griffith.
After the prologue, the first chapter of the book is called "Occam's Razor." If, like me, you don't really know what that is, then here is a link to a web page about it: Occam's Razor. It seems to me that Occam's Razor is the idea that, in seeking to understand something, go with the solution that uses the simplest, most proven explanation. Like if something keeps nibbling the food in your kitchen at night, it is most likely rats and mice not fairies and elves.
The main character, William Henry Devereaux, Jr., keeps trying to apply Occam's Razor to the events in his life. He is so fond of it that he has named his dog Occam. I don't know if he succeeds that well at it though. Hank is an English professor who seems to be at war with everyone in the English department at the university where he teaches. This is probably because he is a smart ass; his favorite activity is goading everyone with whom he comes into contact except for his family and a few friends. He is so addicted to getting a rise, he even teases animals:
They [a flock of ducks] are easily faked out, too, as if they've been too long separated from their better instincts, too often seduced by baser ones. Their heads rotate on their otherwise motionless bodies, and when I take my hands out of my pockets and make a flicking motion, tossing imaginary popcorn along the bank, the birds start toward me, trailing V's on the placid surface of the pond...waddling up out of the water and quacking around on the brown grass in search of what I've pretended to throw them...I take my hands out of my pockets to show the troops I have no popcorn, no stale bread, no candy. Some of the smaller ducks shove off the bank again and begin their slow return, offering a parting, disillusioned quack or two.
Other than being a prize jerk, Hank is struggling with what he thinks is a urinary stone which is causing him various symptoms. Meanwhile, the university is going through a financial crisis of sorts (while continuing to build a new technical arts wing) and people are afraid of losing their jobs. Hank, who is chair of the department, is constantly being approached by coworkers who want some reassurance that they are not going to be cut, which Hank refuses to give them, gaining himself even more enemies than he had before do to his irreverent and aggravating attitude to almost everything. As the crisis builds and Hank's urinary symptoms worsen, eventually something is going to have to give way. Oh and by the way, according to Hank, virtually everyone in the English department is a loser who will never be more than what they are, including himself. As he declares, '"I wish you would promote mediocrity...Mediocrity is a reasonable goal for our institution."'
This novel is about a man in crisis, even if he doesn't want to admit it. He is going down, unable to cope with the pressures of his job. He disguises his desperation with a flip attitude but his body is crumbling. He is not an evil man, even though his main joy seems to be baiting the unwary. He certainly likes to make his little jokes, viewing almost everyone as straight men in his little comedy routine.
I can't say I cared much for this novel, especially the main character, Hank, who is a jerk. Oddly, while reading this book about Hank the smart ass jerk, I was also reading Rabbit, Run about Rabbit, the jerk who leaves his pregnant wife and baby son and Lolita about Humbert the pedophile jerk. What an unfortunate combination, knee deep in jerks all around.
Review from Publishers Weekly.
Elided: to elide means to omit. "Simplicity and justice require that thought and deed not be carelessly elided."
Syllogisms: a syllogism is a method of presenting a logical argument. In its most basic form, the syllogism consists of a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. "He [William of Occam] died of the Black Death, and he never saw it coming until it was upon him, a dirty, brutish, democratic foe who argued with William in precise, elegant syllogisms, defeating all the philosopher's logic and unifying in swift death, as life never could, the conflicting impulses of reason and faith that had shaped his life."