Arts and Sciences: A Seventies Seduction

Arts and Sciences: A Seventies Seduction - Thomas Mallon I met the author of Arts and Sciences at a Park City writing conference years ago, and the only thing he and I, separated by decades of vastly different experiences, were able to small talk about was that he went to Harvard, and I knew somebody who did.So finding this novel on a free book table at my school was a surprise, because it is Mallon’s story of a young man’s coming of age at Harvard in the 1970’s. Whether it’s autobiographical I have no idea, though this copy has pencil notes in the margin from someone who seems at least as familiar with the school as the author (in those comments are names and questions and the occasional Marv Albertesque, “Yes!”)As with Intuition, I enjoyed the Cambridge setting, and I appreciated again that here was a book, written in 1988 and set in 1973, where all the correspondence between characters is actually done by mail. (It’s nice to remember what we’re missing.)Really I just read this book to get a break from Acts of Faith. Arts & Sciences is total candy by comparison: upbeat, naïve, solipsistic, and, except as some elaborate parable, pretty shallow. You spend the first half of the book wishing the narrator would get laid, and after he does (which I promise you is not a spoiler: he’s a college freshman and we’ve all been there), you spend the second half of the book wondering why he won’t shut up about it.The book’s jacket tells you that this novel is a sort of bridge between the abandonment of the values of the 1970’s (sexual fluidity, drugs, a collective American innocence – or denial) and the embracing of the establishment that became the 1980’s (drugs, that unjustified American optimism, and some switching of gender powers). I’d say that might be a stretch to call a theme this idea that appears very, very late in the book. Maybe that is all in there, but the reveal shouldn’t be as painfully neurotic as this.