Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Book Review - The Graduate Student by James Polster

James Polster
The Graduate Student
Publication Date: June 21, 2011
Trade Paperback
360 pages
ISBN: 9781935597537
Advance Reader’s Copy – Uncorrected Proof


When the rainforest slams head-first into Hollywood and neuro-robotics take over where anthropology ends… well, you know something unusual is bound to happen. And, in this case, what happens is not only outlandish but amusing as well. The Graduate Student follows the chaotic antics of Blackwell James as his life takes an unexpected and improbable twist. From near-destitute, almost unemployable, jungle-trekking grad student to overnight Hollywood movie producer and director of a scientific project Blackwell is thrust into two worlds totally beyond his experience. But Blackwell has an uncanny knack of landing on his feet and then stumbling his way into success. Or so it would seem. James Polster navigates through the machinations of Hollyweird and the tricky business of advanced academics and in the process treats us to a comical view of the bizarre worlds of movie producing and graduate studies. Indeed, his main character manages to inadvertently meet Sylvester Stallone, Steven Spielberg, and Henry Winkler and green-light a movie script penned by a UCLA-based computer using cheap software and a database of action movies that have previously made boat-loads of cash. What could possibly go wrong?

The novel is broken down into three fast-paced, near-equal parts. The first section, Blackwell, introduces the reader to the main character. Loosely based on the author’s own experiences this segment reveals a detailed glimpse of the life of the highly unusual and very funny gypsy-like character, Blackwell James. The second element, aptly named Odyssey, is the recounting of a hallucinogenic ménage-a-traipsing through the mind of one of the characters - a psychopath, no less. It recounts, after ingestion of a concoction made from two sacred Amazonian vines, the trip one character takes to find a lost soul who has wandered too deep into the mind of an unstable and impatient movie producer/scientist who’s crimes have been uncovered by the trespass. In part three, Hogeye, the antagonist comes to understand that his crimes (identity theft, larceny, and multiple murders) have been uncovered and he and his wife scheme to destroy the one man who can reveal his unlawful activities to the authorities.

James Polster has, in my opinion, a home-spun blue-collar humor that reminds me of some throw-back Kurt Vonnegut/Hunter Thompson/Carl Hiaasen construct. He takes turns at being subtly and blatantly humorous with both high-brow twists and guttural turns - sometimes, in the same scene. Once you read his bio page you’ll ask yourself if art, in this case, isn’t imitating life. (It is, BTW since Polster actually travelled the Amazon River basin, lived the life of a grad student, and worked for a major television station.) I found a certain underlying level of comfort in Polster’s writing style. By that I mean he creates an intelligent story that is easy to read, contains fast-paced language, and is both clever and humorous. However, The Graduate Student is not a laugh-out-loud belly romp but rather is filled with delightful servings of understated, intelligent, thinking-man humor.

For those who enjoy long, sprawling narratives that take hours to read and unravel be warned. There’s none of that here. In fact, some of the chapters are less than two pages in length. But Polster uses lean, impactful chapters to tell his story and spread a little humor, as well. There’s something to be said about concise, crisp writing – like, “I wish I’d written that!” And Polster has developed the incredibly rare skill of succinctly putting down what he means and then quickly moving on to the next comical scene. You don’t read this story as much as become immersed in it. It’s hard to explain how truly difficult a feat it is to fully draw a reader in but I can tell you this, The Graduate Student is a highly accessible and amusing story that both entrances and amuses the audience. We don’t just get to tag along but are jerked by the shirt collar on this remarkable ride. This one is a no-brainer, folks. Buy it, read it, be entertained by it and then come back here so I can tell you that I told you so…

4 stars out of 5

The Alternative
Southeast Wisconsin

Additional Reading:
James Polster Wiki Page
James Polster Interview
The Graduate Student Amazon Page
James Polster News Story

1 comment:

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