The Material

Multilingual author and Guggenheim Fellow Camille Bordas (How to Behave in a Crowd) tackles comedy in her witty and poignant second English-language novel, The Material, which centers on an MFA program in Chicago, Ill., for stand-up comedians. Bordas is an astute observer of campus culture and cancel culture. These elements come together in a delightful tangle when the MFA program hires a controversial visiting professor. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Manny Reinhardt, a famous comedian whose reputation took a hit after he recently punched a man in the face. The news of his hiring comes on the winds of new allegations of "emotional misconduct" with younger women. Bordas's large cast of characters illustrate a range of reactions to what is acceptable in comedy--and in life. Polar opposites, especially within families, are often at play, the most distinct embodied by a set of identical twins who approach life in starkly different ways.

While The Material takes place over just one tumultuous afternoon and evening, Bordas reaches multiple emotional registers by shifting the novel's roving third-person perspective from students to teachers to family members. For example, she confronts the indignities of aging when a college professor visits his father, who has Parkinson's disease and has reluctantly moved into a nursing home after shooting someone at a bar. And she examines romantic relationships--and their absence--with another professor. All along the way, characters muse on their joke-writing processes and the anxieties that drive them toward humor. It's a fascinating--and funny--window into the human condition. --Nina Semczuk, writer, editor, and illustrator

Powered by: Xtenit