Pictures from an Institution

Observation made confidently from page 71:  Randall Jarrell’s one novel for adults, Pictures from an Institution, delivers a particular kind of pleasure and only that kind.  It doesn’t have much of a plot; its characters aren’t really characters; its pleasure stems from its entire atmosphere of satirical detachment, and from the many specific, devastating observations that spring up and flourish in that atmosphere.  Here (on page 50), a professor of sociology has ventured a half-formed opinion on Molière’s The Misanthrope and blundered into a rhetorical dead end:

In the classroom, where Dr. Whittaker was almost as much at home as in his study, this would not have happened; there each sentence lived its appointed term, died mourned by its people, and was succeeded by a legitimate heir.

Usually, I read novels cover to cover in as short a time as possible, but I’m finding this book works best as a leisurely read–I’ve been picking it up and putting it down again for a few days, not running out of interest, but unable to linger in the acid bath for long.

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