45. The Headmaster Ritual – Taylor Antrim
This book read like an MFA project; all the way down to having a few too many characters and a title appropriated from The Smiths. That’s not to say it’s awful or anything, it’s well written as all Creative Writing MFA projects better be, and it’s got some themes…these themes might lend themselves to a nice Sesame Street-style game of “one of these things is not like the other,” but they’re themes and those are things that people point out when defending their work or angling for a reason to leave in something that should have been trimmed. It’s okay. It got published, it’s over now.
I do seek out books set in boarding schools because I’ve written one majorly epic tale (well, I’ve got two parts of the trilogy done, one is gloriously available) set in a boarding school and I never went to one, just needed the isolation for my story, so I am interested in how other people deal with them. One fundamental difference between many of the books I’ve read set in boarding schools that never ceases to surprise me (even though it shouldn’t) and my own approach to them is that a lot of the dealings revolve directly around rich people and rich people’s kids letting you know they’re rich. I do not know why I fail to remember that rich people send their children to boarding school and make donations and influence shit but for some reason I forget that every single time I start reading another book with a boarding school setting. My characters are in boarding school because the school offered scholarships in exchange for a fairly hefty sacrifice that they were not initially aware of and that doesn’t involve money – so I guess that’s what I expect now. Even in books without science fiction and horror overtones.
Beyond rich kids doing stuff and behaving as one would stereotypically expect, The Headmaster Ritual is about a teacher and his class and his emotional issues (break-up pre-teaching assignment) and in the end it’s also about North Korea and Model UN. Yeah. North Korea. Themes! Actually, Antrim included several useful-to-know facts about North Korea that I can no longer remember…but I do remember thinking “Hey, good job doing your research.” However, Antrim did not involve the Kim Jong Il puppet from Team America:World Police. Why?!