Slipsliding by the Bay – Review

“We can’t stay locked in the past. That’s one of the temptations of the ivory tower, to fall into the trap of complacency.”

Slipsliding by the Bay was a fun, quirky read. The book follows the trials and tribulations of a struggling Lakeside University in the 1970’s. Lakeside has been struggling for a few years, and a new President, John Gudewill, is determined to set things right. But no matter what he does, it seems that both students and faculty alike are determined to have things go their own way. Even if their way leads to the continued failures of Lakeside.

“Do you ever have the feeling we’re merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic?”

Each chapter is short and follows one of the characters. We hear from Eliot, the snobby English professor determined to Unionize the University, regardless of the consequences. Lucy, the sexy librarian who has her own agenda regarding Lakeside. Stein, Gudewills assistant, who does his best to keep tabs on all the plots and scandals. Along with a handful of students, some of which aren’t really worried about the future of Lakeside or the dysfunctional happenings of the campus.

Setting the book in the 1970’s gives it a unique flavor, and really makes the politics of the campus interesting to read. After the rebellious 60’s, there are many people, faculty and alumni alike, who are hoping that the protests and social justice movements become a thing of the past. But the students realize that going backwards isn’t the answer, and do everything they can to help move the campus forward.

I really liked the way McDonald framed the larger social issues of society at the time within the framework of the college campus. The book actually covers a lot of ground and gives a good perspective of the social unrest of the time. It also gives a good feel for how the issues and ideals that triggered the sixties formed the framework for larger change.

McDonald captured the contentious relationship that every generation faces with the past. Here, you have young idealists, who see the power of social revolution, wanting only to have a voice in their own futures, battling an older generation who simply wants to go back to the way things were when they themselves were young. While previous generations may not remember their youth as being quite as rebellious or contentious, I think in their own way, youth always rebels against the norms of their parents. The seventies were no different.

With the short chapters and the diverse cast of characters, this book reads like a fun caper. Each miscommunication and mishap unfolds like a comedic tragedy. The comedy isn’t just in the quirky characters, but in the irony of the results. McDonald captures the stubbornness of human nature, and our sheer refusal to sometimes step back and see the bigger picture. Lack of willingness to communicate leads to an outcome that could have been avoided. The lesson is that this is true in many facets of life and continues to unfold in similar ways over and over and over again in current events.

The politics of academia was also really well done. It wasn’t surprising to read that McDonald had been employed by a University, because she does seem to really understand the dynamics that each individual and collective group brought to the campus. Reading on the impact that Unionization could have, and the arguments for and against the changes were interesting and very well done.

“There comes a time in the economic life of an institution when it must become pragmatic and ruthless.”

I found that quote to be at the heart of not just the politics of this campus, but probably many campuses everywhere. Where do you draw the line between providing a good education and maintaining profit? Looking back on how colleges have changed over the years, it was compelling to read about a campus in the midst of that transition and crisis.

Slipsliding by the Bay was a joy to read. I read the book in a day. Again, it was a fast and fun read. My one downfall with the book is the ending felt a little abrupt and several characters were sort of quickly faded out, so it felt rushed. But, I suppose that in the spectrum of life, the ending wasn’t the point. This book was more about the journey than the destination.

Thank you to BookSparks and She Writes Press for sending me a copy of this book to read and review as part of their pop up blog tour!

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