Read The Devil and Webster by Jean Hanff Korelitz Online


Webster College: an elite New England campus and a world of learning where creativity and inclusiveness are the presiding principles. Naomi Roth, a feminist scholar, is named to the coveted position of Webster's president.When a student protest materializes, Naomi initially supports the movement, feeling proud and protective of the protesters, her own daughter Hannah amongWebster College: an elite New England campus and a world of learning where creativity and inclusiveness are the presiding principles. Naomi Roth, a feminist scholar, is named to the coveted position of Webster's president.When a student protest materializes, Naomi initially supports the movement, feeling proud and protective of the protesters, her own daughter Hannah among them. But the protest begins to fester, attracting students from other institutions and media. Attention begins to focus on one charismatic student, a Palestinian immigrant named Omar, and both the tension on campus and the essential conflicts in Naomi's personal life begin to overwhelm her until she finds herself facing an impossible and ultimately tragic conflict.The Devil and Webster is shot through with caustic comedy, and yet the Faustian notes are a persistent reminder that the possibility of corruption - personal or institutional - remains our persistent companion, however good our intentions might be....

Title : The Devil and Webster
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ISBN : 9780571327980
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 298 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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The Devil and Webster Reviews

  • Pouting Always
    2019-03-25 23:14

    I had no clue what this book was about and so I just picked it up because who knows and it ended up being about Webster College. We follow along as the first female president ends up entangled with a student protester who takes things too far. I would just like to say that college history and the politics of what happens on campus are super boring to me. I didn't even know Webster College was a place and I definitely didn't know about it's history and I didn't really feel interested in knowing it either. I have this thing though where I have to finish a book once I start it though, so I kept going until the end and honestly I don't understand the point of writing this book. I don't get what the message is supposed to be except that when there's controversy people can get carried away and not stop to think or verify the facts. I also don't understand what Omar's GPA and academic performance had to do with his protesting something and whether or not he should be taken seriously. Clearly the lying thing is relevant but why is his GPA? Does anyone who hasn't actually gone to Webster College even care what's happening on that campus really?

  • BlackOxford
    2019-03-14 21:12

    Existential Storms in Monastic TeapotsThe modern university started life in the 13th century as an extension of the medieval monastery. Its mission was to train functionaries, mainly in Ecclesiastical Law and associated writing skills, to serve the needs of the huge international clerical state. Times have certainly changed: the Church is in decline; the Law is still with us but rather more corporate than ecclesiastical; and the young people who participate in it are likely not as rigorously celibate as their predecessors.Nevertheless, despite the secularisation of the world, its function, and its denizens, the university maintains much of its monastic origins. It remains a place apart from worldly affairs, that is to say, economics and its demands to make a living. Like all enclosed communities it intensifies familial tensions - among surrogate siblings and with the in loco parentis staff members - so that otherwise trivial conflicts become worthy as the focus for the commitment of one’s young life. And because the monastic organisational ethos is one of voluntary cooperation not hierarchical direction, it is almost impossible to manage.The university is the institution that Korelitz knows well, in its modern form to be sure, but also in its monastic temperament. She knows that behaviour in the university isn’t governed by political correctness but by monastic mores. One’s fellow monks/students, no matter how annoying, are required to work out their own salvation. Besides, they may end up being one’s superior one day; no sense in alienating a prospective abbot or abbess.The essence of monastic/university life is routine, everything occurs at its set time and season. As Korelitz says about her protagonist, a university president, who confronts the university as “a phenomenon that would return to bedevil her life again and again over the following years: institutional tradition.” Korelitz’s Dartmouth-like descriptions of these institutional traditions are not much different from similar descriptions from Oxford, Paris, and Bologna from 800 years ago. Term times, lecture times, tutorial protocols, examination rubrics, all constitute a liturgy which is more rigid and more rigidly defended than any other formal regulations. Weaving one’s way through such a swamp of ‘the way we’ve always done things” is as difficult for an administrator as it is for the students and teachers. Disrupting routine is the only real tool of protest available, but it’s usually effective.Monastic establishments depend vitally on benefactors. Traditionally these were the local nobility but corporate donors have slid easily into the role. The latter exercise their influence subtly but decisively, particularly through their influential power of appointment. It is this power indeed that connects the monastery, ancient or modern, to the worldly realities of economics and meaningful politics. The issue of lay patronage over church appointments was a major issue of the Middle Ages. The Church won the battle around the end of the first millennium but lost the war by the end of the second. The result is the modern university’s tenuous formal independence. Influence not power rules. And influence is very quiet about itself.The issues addressed within the modern universities are different in name but not in substance from those that were popular in ancient monasteries: who is to be saved and how. Perhaps the most urgent focus for this issue over the last several decades has been gender - only partly because gender touches on sex; much more because gender is a surrogate for the question of the orderliness of the universe - followed closely by race, largely because it too has been such a source of privilege, and consequently order. Two genders (three if one includes the neuter but this has never been problematic since it refers to non-sexual beings) is the ancient presumption upon which most sacred scriptures are founded. What happens when gender is considered a spectrum rather than binary? There are also two races - white and all others. So what happens when the subtleties of race confront the meritocratic rules of white liberal society?Monastic eruptions and explosions are what happens. Very quickly everyone becomes a fundamentalist. The fight is ostensibly about what constitutes reality: ‘Gender abnormalities are just that - abnormal’ vs. ‘Gender abnormalities are the norm.’ Similarly ‘Race distinctions are misleading’ vs. ‘Race distinctions are unavoidable.’ Students believe they know the way really is and they never like it.The fights, conflicts, protests at university, however, are actually not about reality, what’s really there, but about the the attitude toward whatever there really is. The issues, that is, aren’t ontological but ethical. This is what gets worked out in the monastery/university environment. Problems that previously have no name are articulated and argued. It’s messy, beyond rational comprehension, and only temporary since the population is in flux. But it’s somehow effective.Thus a university experience is inevitably moral. All concerned - students, teachers and administrators - eventually find they are challenged to look not ‘there,’ in the objective world for solutions to problems, but ‘here,’ in themselves for how they are complicit in whatever is occurring. The students are formally instructed by their in the objective realities of the cosmos, while they all are socially indoctrinated in the acceptance of the subjective responsibility for their own psychic stance towards it. It looks chaotic, sometimes nonsensical, but Korelitz understands what it’s about and she tells the story well in The Devil and Daniel Webster.

  • Matt
    2019-03-27 05:30

    “All that Welcome Week counseling, the special receptions for foreign students and homeschooled students. So much for the big brothers and big sisters assigned to freshmen, with their ice-cream socials in the new students’ dormitory common rooms and their great big college-catered picnic down at the boathouse. So much for the RAs, four to a flour in the freshman dorms, and their late-night pizza parties, also underwritten by the college. And the writing resource centers and the tutoring network, both devised to make at-risk freshman feel supported and inspired. And the academic advisors who met with every single student at least twice a year, but at least every other month for the freshmen. Good to know the checks and balances were working nicely. Good to know all of that effort and care had been worth it.”These rueful thoughts come as a rare moment of clarity for Naomi Roth, the embattled president of the elite (and fictional) Webster College. The students, you see, have been engaged in a months-long demonstration on the quad in order to protest the denial of tenure to a beloved (and black) professor. Naomi, a former activist herself (which she tells everyone she meets, repeatedly), does everything she can to respect and accommodate the students. Despite this, the protests drag on, becoming a national embarrassment for both the college and its president. Worse, from Naomi’s perspective, is that she has somehow become the enemy. Even to her daughter. If this setting sounds familiar, it’s because it has been based on any number of actual campus tempests that have roiled America’s colleges the past few years. The controversies have become almost routine, and feature the same irresistible elements: prestigious universities (with big endowments and big tuition bills); smart, motivated, and media savvy students; and administrators who are powerless to fight back, because the moment they do, they can no longer claim to support the free flow of ideas. It is combinations such as this that give us the incredible spectacle of college kids turning poorly made báhn mì sandwiches into a social justice cause. The central drama of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Devil and Webster is the denial of tenure to Professor Nicholas Gall. The protest coalesces around Omar Khayal, a Palestinian student with an exceptional life story, who becomes Gall’s biggest champion. But this isn’t the only thing happening at Webster! In just 357 pages, Korelitz manages to set in motion a half-dozen other subplots, including a strained mother-daughter relationship; a secretive admissions officer; and a tepid romance. The result, perhaps unsurprisingly, feels underwhelming. There is too much clutter, too many threads being woven at once. I had high hopes going in – based in part on an NPR interview that got me hooked – but as satire, it is rather weak and unfocused, and not entirely sure of its moral position. The Devil and Webster is strongest at the beginning. Here, Korelitz gives us the background of Webster, and its evolution from an American Indian College to all-white WASP haven to selective liberal enclave. She seems to enjoy this world-building exercise, and it neatly sets up the novel’s major conflict. There is some decent, bleak humor in these shenanigans, especially in the way that the grownups are so consistently outflanked and flummoxed by eighteen year-olds. Korelitz writes in the third person, but essentially tells this story from Naomi’s point of view. Naomi is broadminded and fair, so she never demonizes the student protesters. Indeed, at times, she wishes she could join them, to bring back the old days. However, she is privy to information about them (and thus, we are too) that calls into question the basis for their demonstration. Consequently, the deck is really stacked against the students. We spend most of our time as readers viewing things from Naomi’s perspective. This is a bit unfortunate, because she is not the most dynamic character. There were times Naomi wilted under the narrative weight she was required to carry. Despite ascending to the role of university president, Korelitz sketches Naomi as naïve, self-pitying, and lacking in basic self-awareness. Today, major universities have multimillion dollar endowments and the corporate structure of Fortune 500 companies. Nevertheless, Naomi has somehow ascended to the top position without ever having to navigate the ruthless infighting and small-fiefdom politics of college administrations. The secondary storylines, as I mentioned above, don’t work, but I understand Korelitz’s impulse. There is only so much drama, after all, to be wrung from students camping out on the commons. The mother-daughter plot is simply a drag. Hannah, Naomi’s daughter, is a wretched, self-entitled brat. It’s like Pearl from The Scarlet Letter grew into a modern American teenager. The interactions between the two consist mainly of Hannah lecturing her mother about unexamined privileges, while conveniently forgetting the trainload of unexamined privileges that have delivered her to the very spot upon which she stands. The “friendship” between Naomi and her “best friend”, admissions officer Francine Rigor, is only a little better. Through Francine, we get some insight into the complexities and algorithms of elite-college admissions (which Korelitz has written about before). However, every time they get together it’s awkward and frosty, as Korelitz bluntly hints at some vague mystery behind Francine’s behavior, which was so uninterested I never once gave it a thought.When I finished, I wondered at Korelitz’s ultimate point. What was she trying to say? There are pertinent issues raised within these pages. The myopia of privilege. The limits of free speech. The limits to be placed on students as colleges attempt to both prepare and protect them from the real world. Korelitz raises these, but does not satisfactorily grapple with them. Instead, the final pages give us a flurry of twists, one after another. These provide a momentarily thrill (I use the term quite loosely), but upon further reflection seem an act of misdirection. Rather than driving home the satire or drawing a conclusion, things just sort of end, without any valedictory or lesson. It’s like an episode of Seinfeld. The characters all go through this experience without any apparent effect or change. I got through The Devil and Webster quickly and painlessly, while receiving a certain level of entertainment in return. There is value in that. This is one of those books I’d bring to the airport to pass the time while waiting for a delayed flight. It’s a decent way to kill a few hours. On the other hand, it could have been more, and I think I expected more, and frankly, hours are precious, and I don’t typically try to just kill them. This is not a bad book. It’s just one that I’m going to forget in a week.

  • Rebecca Foster
    2019-03-04 02:28

    It’s hard to resist a campus novel. The sixth novel from Jean Hanff Korelitz is unusual in focusing more on the administration than the students of a fictional American college. Webster College, Massachusetts was founded as a Native American training academy in the eighteenth century by missionary Josiah Webster. Now it rivals Harvard and other Ivy League schools, attracting liberal students with its enlightened gender and racial politics. (I had Swarthmore and Oberlin in mind as models.)Yet Naomi Roth, Webster’s first female president, soon finds that racial and sexual tension still bubble under the surface here. A decade ago, her first major challenge as president was dealing with the uproar when Nell Jones-Givens, who lived in female-only Radclyffe Hall, began transitioning to become Neil. But now she faces an even stickier problem: A group of students have set up an Occupy-style camp in the center of the quad to protest the decision to deny tenure to Nicholas Gall, a popular African-American anthropology professor.The protest is spearheaded by Omar Khayal, a charismatic Palestinian refugee who wowed Naomi’s closest friend, Dean of Admissions Francine Rigor, with his application essay about growing up in the midst of conflict and surviving the death of his entire family. What Omar and these other outraged students don’t know – and Naomi can’t reveal because of the confidentiality of the process – is that Gall has a negligible publication record and was also found guilty of plagiarism. They instead presume that this is all because he is black.What starts off as manageable dissent thus morphs into unpleasant, racially motivated retribution. “Webster is not a city on a hill. Webster is still the reactionary place it was before,” Omar declares in a media interview. In this context, Naomi’s upcoming Native American conference, though planned long ago, seems like a pathetic attempt at placation.Throughout, the third-person narration sticks close to Naomi, a compelling protagonist not least because she’s a single mother and her daughter Hannah is also a protesting Webster student. By documenting Naomi’s thoughts (often in italics) versus what she says, Korelitz emphasizes the difficult position she’s in, always having to hold her tongue and speak diplomatically, as when addressing the protest camp:“My only interest is in learning more about your concerns and your intentions. We share this community, and I’m sure we all want the best for it. If there are problems to be identified, issues to be discussed, changes to be made…whatever. It won’t happen if you won’t…” Talk, she wanted to say. Open your fucking mouths with their years of orthodontia and use those expensively educated voices to articulate your pathetic complaints about this…this halcyon, evolved, rarified, creative, and intellectual college campus, where you are free to learn and nap and make things and have sex and get high and change your fucking gender even, and clean water comes out of the tap and you wave your school ID under a scanner to help yourself to smorgasbords of food (meat! meat alternative! vegan! lactose-sensitive! nut-free! gluten-free!) and all we expect of you is that you pass your classes and don’t hurt anyone else. But she didn’t say these things. Of course she didn’t say them.Naomi has her own background in feminist activism, but now, instead of being in a position to ‘speak truth to power,’ she has to realize that, as Francine reminds her, she is the power.This is an interesting book about appearances and assumptions. Again and again characters make ethical compromises, proving how difficult it is to find and maintain the moral high ground. As the college’s historian points out to Naomi, from its very beginnings Webster has had a tendency towards capitulation. He plans to write up this story in a book called The Devil and Webster – which is also a reference to “The Devil and Daniel Webster,” the 1936 O. Henry Award-winning, Faustian short story by Steven Vincent Benét. I haven’t read the story, but looking at a synopsis I can see that it’s relevant in that it touches on themes of race, patriotism and the treatment of Native Americans.The story line feels fresh and surprising, if at times melodramatic. My problem was more with the author’s style, which seemed to me old-fashioned and belabored. Korelitz has a habit of minutely describing everything: a house, a room, the food, the hairstyles, and so on. There are four pages on Naomi’s presidential wardrobe, and we get not just a passing reference to her PhD thesis but three pages on it. This means that it feels like it takes forever for the plot to get going. Much of modern fiction is more minimalist, I think, or would more naturally weave in its short bits of backstory. I even wondered if this book would have been better off as a collection of linked short stories from different points in Naomi’s or the college’s past.This is all a shame, because while I liked the characters, dialogue and setting and enjoyed many of the turns of phrase (e.g. “filling in the spousal synapses” and “Garrison Keillor’s voice had a narcotic vocal element that always made her feel sleepy, each word a nepenthe puff”), I found the book tiresome overall, and can’t imagine myself picking up another one from Korelitz any time soon.Originally published on my blog, Bookish Beck.

  • Liz Barnsley
    2019-02-27 04:25

    Hmm. Still in consideration on this one. It was beautifully written but not sure it engaged me utterly. I kind of meandered along to the end of it with no real gut instinct. Fuller review to follow later.

  • jo
    2019-03-24 04:27

    at first i found this maddening. we have certain expectations of 1. american novels and 2. academic novels, and this particular book flouts them, infuriatingly. narratives threads are unaccountably cut short. scenes stop in the middle. why couldn't the author go on, use more words, tell us what happened after the last person spoke? why leave scenes so abruptly unfinished? this flouts the narrative expectations of the american novel, and, at first, it seemed to me a sign of poor writing. the thing is, this book is, otherwise, written beautifully. the language is erudite and precise, sharp and smart. the narrative is compressed (not in the bad way i describe above but in the good way that keeps the story focused and engaging) and suspenseful. there was no way korelitz wasn't being intentional in her truncating of crucial scenes. the novel does not fit the mold of the academic novel either. there is no sleazy, confusing interaction between a student and faculty member. in fact, we meet one lone faculty member only briefly, even though he is the subject of the novel. there is no crisis on the part of a member of the faculty, or a department (see the redoubtable Dr. Edith Vane and the Hares of Crawley Hall). even though race is at the narrative center of the novel, it is not its thematic center -- or maybe it is, but not in the way it seems at first. there are no conversations among students. what korelitz does, she gives us a novel about administrators -- in 2017, when university administrators are roundly hated and despised by just about everyone but themselves. the story takes place at webster college, a liberal arts college that is the off-broadway equivalent of the ivy leagues, so much so that it is considered, in fact, a sort of ivy league itself. the protagonist is the very reluctant president of the university, naomi roth, an ex-women and gender studies' professor and single mother of a daughter who, for reasons we are not told (we are not told a lot, maddeningly), after growing up in the austere and too-big president's house on campus, decides to become a webster student. a faculty member, african american (we assume; we know he's black), is not granted tenure. in spite of his not being tenure-worthy, he is much beloved by the students, we never quite learn why. a protest is immediately staged. naomi cannot reveal the (very good) grounds for tenure denial, but offers to meet with the students and try to sort out their collective dismay. the students absolutely, unequivocally refuse to meet with her, in spite of her many attempts to accommodate them. this refusal takes the form of a wall of silence. the students are entirely uninterested in having it out with the person who could in theory at least change the situation they are protesting.the protest grows and grows and naomi, who has a true-blue history of campus protesting behind her, lets it be. she doesn't speak to the press except for the campus paper and doesn't say absolutely anything about the causes for tenure denial (they are confidential and she would rather go down in flames than break this confidentiality). webster, a college that tries very hard to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, and all the antis that make a campus as liberal as it can possibly be, becomes a national symbol of institutional racism. pushed by many to bulldoze the increasingly large campus occupation, naomi puts up instead a heated trailer with toilets for the students camping out in the quad. a lot of things happen, none of them the things you expect to happen. it became clear to me only near the end, thanks to a couple of conversations naomi has with, first, her best friend who is also the dean of admissions and, second, a native american alum who is invited for a conference (webster has one of the top native american studies programs in the US), that this novel is about what it means to become the top administrator, the CEO if you will, of a large corporate body when every bone in you has a radically lefty marrow. eventually, this is less an academic caper than a serious reflection on the power structure in academia, the negotiation a leader must do between running a place and upholding liberal ideals with integrity, generational horn-locking, and how all colleges should be run. while it seems obvious that what korelitz had in mind when she wrote this novel was the increasing corporatization of american universities and the majestic leaching of intellectual and moral values they weekly display (see harvard's withdrawal of the chelsea manning's visiting fellow appointment while keeping similar appointments for sean spicer, corey lewandowski, joe scarborough and mika brzezinski, and berkeley's astonishing free speech week), i could not help thinking that she wrote it during the last year or so of the obama administration, when black men and women were routinely mowed down by the police yet the justice department did close to nothing (this is just one respect in which obama betrayed the liberal values on the wave of which he was elected). korelitz's reluctant university president can do the right thing because she doesn't care about losing her position. no one has bought it for her and she has so much integrity that she does not even care about her legacy. her choices have dire consequences, but she never waivers.

  • Kate
    2019-03-03 01:29

    I have been lucky enough to meet Jean Hanff Korelitz and attend her wonderful pop up book groups for other authors. Tomorrow, I will get to sit with her to discuss her newest novel which was thoroughly engrossing and very thought provoking. This novel about a campus under siege from student activists who are protesting a situation they do not know the facts of kept me reading over the holiday weekend and made work more tolerable. It is very much a New England novel: liberal, understanding and so very complicated. Well written, The Devil and Webster is a great read for those who love academic novels as well as those who love a good beach read. I can't wait to discuss it with the author!!

  • Amy
    2019-02-24 03:16

    The Devil and Webster – 4 starsI have been saying that it requires some bravery to write this review. The central issue is far more complicated than it initially appears. At first, I found the book slow. It took me awhile to get into it. But I now see the construction of the book was the lens of experiencing all the slow building events from the main characters’ point of view. And the main character – a college president named Naomi Roth, she finds herself in the groundswell of events she cannot control and doesn’t even fully understand. As a youth she was a student activist and protester, and she passionately stands for discourse, human rights, and the legitimacy of marginalized experience. (As do I). And yet she unwittingly becomes the authority she can’t imagine herself becoming. She has a daughter attending the school as well, who is part of the protest, representing her younger self, and this relationship with her daughter is her primary relationship.The reason the review requires bravery is that it takes an interesting look at the stance of the left, and how complicated and complex the issues of the left actually are. I admit I find sometimes that passion for the cause can potentially obscure the complexity of a situation – a stance that could get me kicked out of my home state. I thought the book did a lovely job illustrating how in some rare cases race and political quagmires can be used to misrepresent and unfairly incite. This is not intended to remotely demean the cause that I believe in fully, but to show how media and passion together play a role in spinning a tale, that might not quite be accurate or fair. The highly complicated and passionate divide as to what is truth in regards to the Arab Israeli Conflict, is a great example of this. Critical thinking can get lost, in a passionate desire for equity. Which doesn’t make both aims, not extremely important, profound, and worth striving for. This author does a brilliant job however, illustrating how complicated our values can actually get in this time and age. And how hard it is to tease out what is right and what to actually take a stand for.The book itself, I hope I haven’t overshared. I actually will use this moment to admit that I often browse through reviews rather quickly before I’ve read the book, as to not even know any details that might spoil the unfolding of the story. My reviews are often vague and experiential for that reason. I’m not a big fan of spoilers ruining the experience, and I fear I have already said too much. I actually found I really and greatly enjoyed the story and thought about it for days afterward. Truly, I think it depicts the mired complexity of this age, and I enjoyed the ride as it unfolded.

  • Kayo
    2019-03-18 02:05

    If I could have given this NO stars I would have. Really was looking forward to it, but there was seriously no point to it. Felt like I was trudging thru mud.I received this book for free thru the Netgalley and it had no bearing on the rating I gave it.

  • Mr. Gottshalk
    2019-03-01 01:16

    This book started as a tough-sledding, 1-star dud and built its way up to three. The author feels, especially in the beginning of the novel, the need to prove she has a verbose vocabulary and command of the minutiae of collegiate doings. She pulls us through the life of a prestigious small-college president Naomi Roth. Roth is beleaguered by a student protest that will not end, and I admit that I wanted to know how it would all turn out. After all, I too went to a small, liberal arts college (whose name is actually mentioned on page 112)! If you hang with it, there is a story to be told here after the initial slog.

  • Sue
    2019-03-09 04:10

    Zeitgeisty story of an elite college campus.Jean Hanff Korelitz’s writing is clean, sharp, purposeful, smart. She knows how to make a story immediately leap to our attention and how to keep the reader rapt. Her new novel is set at a progressive and prestigious college campus in New England within which the author presents a microcosm of the ‘right on’ world we live in today. A lifelong feminist and staunch believer in the ability of peaceful protest as a means of speaking truth to power, Naomi Roth has held the post of President at Webster College (“The Harvard of Massachusetts”) for several years. For most of that time, her tenure has been plain sailing. But her mettle is about to be severely tested when a student protest on the college lawns spreads out of control. She could resolve the matter in an instant were it not for a confidentiality issue it would be unethical to disclose. To complicate matters further, the ringleader is Omar Khayal, a young Palestinian student with a tragic back-story. Trickier still, one of the protest leaders is none other than Naomi’s daughter Hannah, a straight-A student at the college.Told more or less in chronological order – something of a rare treat these days – this book is an immersive experience. One can clearly see the college buildings and hallowed grounds in one’s mind’s eye. The Stump – where traditionally students have gathered on the lawn to enact graduation rituals or to perform their sunrise yoga or to simply use as a handy meeting point – gradually becomes a squalid protest camp and one can almost smell the grime. The politics of academia strike one as thoroughly authentic and the careful balancing act that a distinguished college has to perform between maintaining its traditions and moving with the times is here rendered into an all-too-believable scenario. Highly recommended.

  • Matthew
    2019-03-18 21:13

    I did not know what to expect from "The Devil and Webster," a very current novel set in an eastern liberal arts community named Webster, but I overheard two women in my book club discussing it at the library and decided to go for it. The narrative follows Naomi, the school’s first female (and Jewish) president as she feels her away around the new job. Soon enough, she is dealing with a popular folklore professor who is denied tenure, and the ensuing conflict when his cause is taken up by a student of Palestinian origin named Omar, who leads an ongoing protest in the quad. The confrontration drags on, much to Naomi’s regret since she herself in younger days was an activist at Webster, not to mention the hovering media presence, and the utter estrangement with her daughter, Hannah, also a student activist.The book plods along, with not a lot happening (Naomi coordinates a Native American conference to staunch the bleeding), and you may find yourself losing interest, until a sudden revelation changes everything. Quite a lot unfolds in the last 20 pages or so, and I was greatly pleased with how Korelein wrapped it up. The last few scenes are intense, and expertly done. Many Goodreads reviews don't seem to think there's much point to the story, however I think that they are not thinking through it very deeply. At the very least, this book is highly interested in exploring women's relationships, and their new positions of prominence and power, diligently earned by first-generation feminists who are now leading the next generation, their daughters, and their daughters' friends, and the timeless conflicts of leadership that follow in these times.

  • Zachary King
    2019-03-09 01:07

    A scathing satire of the prevalence of self-righteousness and pseudo-oppression in college campus protest culture. A perfect storm of protest-worthy material strikes Webster College and its president, Naomi Roth. But all is not as it seems, as the reader discovers what the protestors don't know about the professor denied tenure. So much of this book rang true after years of graduate school! Took a star off because a few threads didn't quite link up and because the satire occasionally wasn't clear who was being spoofed. Highly recommended, though, for its timely nature.

  • Abby Pechin
    2019-03-10 03:08

    Drab. I expected more from this novel.

  • miss.mesmerized mesmerized
    2019-03-26 21:14

    She has never strived for this job, but Naomi Roth has become the first female president of Webster College almost 20 years ago. With her daughter Hannah she has moved to the small place and turned the school into a competitor of the Ivy League Colleges. Admittedly, she was proud when also her daughter decided not to choose one of the big names but her college for her studies. When the popular lecturer Nicholas Gall is denied tenure track, students organize protest against the college’s administration. What Naomi welcomes first as a sign of caring and standing up for your believes gradually transforms into the worst crisis the college has ever seen. The leader of the student group is a young Palestinian student, Omar Khayal, who not only is charismatic and can thus easily gather people behind him but also has a history which is embraced by the media to cover the story: he fled the Israeli bombings which killed his family and made his way to one of the top schools, and now they want to expel him because he is fighting for his teacher – who is of African-American descent. A scandal is quickly produced and Naomi not only has to sail against the wind of the board but also of her own daughter who positions herself on the opposite side. Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel starts slowly, we get a thorough picture of Naomi and Hannah’s life and relationship and also an idea of how Naomi’s situation at Webster was before the crisis. She appears to be strong and clever and cannot easily be shaken. Yet, this situation brings her to the brink of professional destruction and personal despair. The way the relationships become increasingly complicated is narrated in a convincing way. It is not only between mother and daughter, but also between Naomi and long-time friends that things get ever more difficult until all the years of their friendship are questioned. I really liked the protagonist because she is depicted as a complex character who is not without flaws but has clear convictions and a strong sense of justice and objectivity. On the other hand, she is also doubting and asking herself if she really can live up to her ideas and actually treats the students in a fair way.Apart from his interesting study in the characters, the most striking aspect of the novel is how the truth can be bent according to one’s necessities. It is clear from the beginning that Nicholas Gall not only is culpable of plagiarism but also lacks all academic standards, neither did he publish something nor does he show adequate behaviour. Yet, Naomi’s morals hinder her from revealing anything of the secret tenure track process and she does not want to publish the lecturer’s misconduct. Without this knowledge, things seem to be quite different for the students and the media. However, the witch-hunt really starts with the story of the poor, heart-breaking Palestinian who had to go through so much in life and deserves to be supported not to be thrown out – but again, the public is not aware of Omar’s poor academic results and like in any other case, the college has to take action. Who can you defend your decisions if your strongest arguments cannot be said out aloud? It wouldn’t a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz if there wasn’t a lot more to be revealed. Towards the end, the author has some nasty surprises for the reader which again offer another perspective on how things really are. I really appreciate her skill of playing tricks on the reader since it is great entertainment to uncover the different layers of the story.

  • Kelly
    2019-03-10 23:26

    At one point, early in her tenure as the president of an elite, liberal arts college, Naomi realizes the folly of treating everyone as though they are intellectually honest. You see, she is. Intellectually honest. She may not always understand the situation in full (one of the frustrating/compelling/infuriating/intense things about The Devil and Webster is its limited third person narration), but she is honest.As someone who is, both in age and in activism, caught somewhere between Naomi and her daughter, Hannah -- I have not yet "set down the burden of [my] own outrage, as Naomi admits she has done, but nor am I on the front lines of a protest movement -- but who is aligned with their beliefs, their empathy and compassion for humanity, I felt torn as I read. Of course, knowing what Naomi knows about the movement Hannah and her peers have taken up, we know it's wrongheaded -- but does that mean it's pointless? Does that mean that those ideas aren't relevant and worthy of discussion and protest? And on the other hand, I know what it's like to feel exhausted by the sheer volume of worthy things to protest, and I shared Naomi's frustration that this new generation of protesters was less willing to treat than they were to wage a social media war.The Devil and Webster starts off meandering and pastoral, even nostalgic for those of us who had a Webster-like collegiate experience. There is a sense that you are living this school year with Naomi as she describes the fall leaves and her professional wardrobe and the texture of her hair. The tone, pace, and rhythm of the book grow consistently more fervent as the school year goes on and the peaceful protests escalate to a full-blown crisis. As thoughtful as the book is, it's also a super-fun read that sneaks up on you, until you're hastily turning the last fifty pages trying to see what will happen next.

  • Pammie
    2019-02-25 00:27

    I don't know anything about high stakes exclusive colleges and their recruitment, admissions, and other problems, and after reading this disturbing book, I'm glad I don't. Admin is insane, teaching and support staff are insane, students are insane, and the get the idea. Naomi is the first female president of tiny, highly rated Webster College in Massachusetts. The favorite campus t-shirt says "Webster--the Harvard of Massachusetts". A popular professor has been denied tenure because of the discovery that he plagiarized the one thing he published during his 5 year hitch at Webster. Due to legal privacy issues, the reason for his denial cannot be made public by the college, so no one is aware of why he was denied, and assumes it is because he is black in the mostly white, upper class and extremely privileged environment of Webster. Student protests ensue, media comes in, and things get crazy. Especially when it all seems to center on a charismatic Palestinian scholarship student.Naomi is a "concerned", open administrator, but she seems completely out of touch with reality. She doesn't know the professor in question--doesn't even recognize him when he is shown on the TV news. In a small college?? She doesn't know a lot of her staff, in fact. So what does she fill her time doing? She came to be president during a similar student-centered crisis involving a transgendered student five years before, and apparently in the five year gap between crises she just looked out her window at the beautiful view. Not very realistic. I'd have given this more stars if I could have gotten past her utter insulation. The book does have a very interesting twist, and it makes you question the entire structure of academic (and by extension, corporate and political) reality. Is everything just theatre??? Maybe.

  • Bonnie Brody
    2019-03-07 22:09

    Webster College is a tony bastion of liberalism and advocacy in rural Massachusetts. Naomi Roth is its first female president, also the first Jewish one. Naomi's daughter Hannah is a student at Webster and becomes involved in a protest movement that flusters Naomi and puts her administrative skills to the test.When students begin camping out by 'the stump', the central meeting area at Webster, a protest is in the works, one that Naomi barely sees coming. On the surface, the protest is about the denial of tenure to a popular professor. However, there are undercurrents to the protest that run deep. The group's leader is is a Palestinian student and the politics and cultural ramifications of this protest begin to appear deeper than anyone suspected, sending the Webster campus community running for shelter to avoid psychological and physical attacks.I thought this book would interest me as it is pegged as a satire on higher education. However, the sentences were too long, ran on, and were often convoluted. The author appeared too focused on style and not enough on content. As I tried to get into the heart of the narrative I was often side-tracked by the cumbersome writing style.

  • Candice
    2019-03-26 04:07

    I had a hard time getting into this, but it picked up as it went on and I could not put it down once I reached the last hundred pages. It gives the reader a lot to think about. A beloved African-American professor has been denied tenure but because of confidentiality rules, the college president, Naomi Roth, cannot reveal that the reason for the denial of tenure is that the professor plagiarized. Since Professor Gall was so well-liked, a student protest has sprung up regarding his situation. From the mass of students protesting Gall's denial of tenure springs a charismatic Palestinian student, Omar Khayal. Khayal's background is heartbreaking, as one might imagine. I would not want to be the president of Webster College at this period in its history! But there were a number of stereotypes in the book that detracted from its. I got tired of reading about what a wonderful, selective college it was. Nevertheless I would recommend it with the caution that the reader might be tempted to give up but should keep reading as it becomes quite compelling toward the end.

  • Terri
    2019-03-02 23:25

    I enjoyed this book on more than one level. On the surface, it is an entertaining and well-written story. On a deeper level, it is thought provoking considering the current state of many college campuses. I've been wondering about university leadership, and their responses to student protests (safe spaces, triggers, etc.) and this book was a fun opportunity to explore from the perspective of, "what would I do in her position?" There were other threads to the story line I enjoyed: 1) The "fake it 'til you make it" feelings that I think many people, esp. women (?), experience moving up the career ladder. I found that relatable, along with the portrayal of office politics; 2) Bad days at work. It was cathartic somehow, reading about someone that had a stretch of bad days at work. Maybe because it makes my days seem so good! 3) Workplace/women's friendships, which can be complicated at any age. I enjoyed this book so much that I'm looking forward to reading more of Jean Hanff Korelitz work.

  • Vickie Backus
    2019-03-07 00:20

    I had high hopes for this book, especially since I teach at a top ranked, New England , liberal arts college with its first woman president that is also struggling to increase its racial and economic diversity But I found that I was disappointed. The book is so focused on the main character that everyone else seems to be a stick figure. Their motives are the unclear and seem random. Naomi Roth, the main character is reacting rather than acting and seems unable to move past her past- which is left unexplained by the author. This is a book which would have been a lot richer if it had been told from multiple viewpoints.

  • Sylvia Dixon
    2019-03-18 03:19

    The first part of this novel was interesting and I liked where the story was headed. Then it took a nose dive was a bit melodramatic and lost any element of surprise. Too many holes in the plot. The character development seemed superficial I had hope for this book but was a disappointment.

  • Randall Menser
    2019-03-11 04:04

    The book is certainly well-written, and the author discusses interesting issues that afflict academic institutions at the moment, but fails to sufficiently resolve those issues. Pretty words, but the reader is left unsatisfied by the story-telling.

  • Steve Peifer
    2019-03-26 03:02

    There is so much that this book gets right that the big thing it gets wrong is not only jarring but disappointing because it takes you out of the narrative. The author deeply understands selective admissions and the life of an elite northeastern college. The portrait of the president really captures the loneliness of women in power, and it is both heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time.But if you know higher ed, you know there is no possible way a rich school would ever let the incident get out of hand. The fact that there are no hordes of lawyers and PR flacks may make for better reading if you don't know colleges, but the improbability of the lone president facing the crisis alone kept pulling me out of the narrative. It just couldn't happen.I still enjoyed the book, found it filled with some great insights (the explanation of why student radicals need to be present for every generation is worth the price of admission.) She is a good writer; it was the implausibility that kept me from giving it five stars.

    2019-02-23 21:26

    The structure is similar to "You Should Have Known" which is fine with me because I loved it.A very well researched slow burn but I must admit I saw the end coming.

  • Ben
    2019-03-09 04:19

    I love satires set in colleges and universities, and this one was particularly good - a smart sendup of ultra-liberal small colleges struggling with real world biases and challenges, mixed with a dark undercurrent of menace and mystery. Equal parts "Wonder Boys' and "Gone Girl".

  • Donna
    2019-03-22 00:10

    Thoroughly enjoyed and would love to read more by this author

  • Siobhan
    2019-02-28 03:13

    The Devil and Webster is a slow burn campus novel from the perspective of a feminist scholar college president who discovers that ideals and protest are not as clear cut as she once thought. Webster College is an elite liberal arts college in New England and from its less inclusive past has transformed into a centre of free thought, inclusiveness, and protest. Its president Naomi Roth has a protesting past and when another protest sparks up on campus, she sees no reason to discourage it. However, the events that unfold question her beliefs and show that corruption can spring up anywhere and protest can be a grey area.The novel is full of detail and is quite slow paced, but this culminates in a twist that shows how one situation can very suddenly turn into another one. Naomi’s current life is vividly painted, from her troubled relationship with her daughter Hannah - a student at Webster - to her worries about her closest friend Francine, Webster’s dean of admissions. Combined with this is an image of protest in the modern day, with social media able to spread information and misinformation in the blink of an eye. The conflict in the novel unfolds gradually and though it took a while to be sure that it was going somewhere, the ending and the way in which Naomi is caught in a seemingly futile position despite her best intentions do make it worthwhile.From reading the acknowledgements at the end, I found out that Naomi Roth had featured in an early novel by Korelitz, but The Devil and Webster worked well as a standalone book and any mystery about Naomi’s past felt like part of the narrative. Though its pace may not appeal to everybody, it is an incisive and sometimes satirical novel about intentions, corruption, and higher education.

  • Kathy Cunningham
    2019-02-27 05:19

    Jean Hanff Korelitz’s THE DEVIL AND WEBSTER is a biting, satiric look at higher education in America today. The protagonist, Naomi Roth, is the first female president of upscale Webster College in Massachusetts, a liberal institution with a reputation for turning out thinkers and activists (the narrator calls Webster, “the institution of choice for creative and left-leaning intellectuals of all genders and ethic varieties”). In fact, Webster (and Naomi) is proud of the number of protests held on the Webster campus – protests ranging from pro-choice to gay liberation to anti-apartheid to anti-war. These protests are encouraged . . . at least until the protestors begin protesting against Webster. The issue at stake is a popular African American professor who has been denied tenure by the college. The student protestors cry racism, putting Naomi and the college in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Naomi loves protestors; she was one herself, in her younger days. But it isn’t quite as easy when the protestors are protesting against her!To make matters worse, Naomi knows exactly why this particular professor was denied tenure (the college did have a valid reason), but her hands are tied; she is legally prevented from revealing the details in what is a confidential matter (“The whole process was cloaked in privacy, padlocked by institutional secrecy”). Additionally, her own daughter, a sophomore at Webster, has been caught up in the protest. And the apparent leader of the protestors is a Palestinian student named Omar, whose horrific personal story and charismatic personality turn a simple campus protest into something generating national interest. Is Webster guilty of institutional racism? And what should Naomi do when things quickly get out of hand?Korelitz is getting at institutional hypocrisy in this novel. Webster may be a bastion of liberal ideology – the school actively courts Native Americans as a nod to its history, even though the school was founded by a man who was only interested in assimilating Native Americans into Christian American culture. Additionally, as much as Naomi tries to embrace the free-thinking, people-oriented, radical left-wing movements with which she has always identified, she can’t quite escape the realities of running a very expensive school with very rich students and very generous donors. By the end, she is seen as “the Mephistopheles of higher education,” part of the establishment she has always opposed. Can Webster really claim to be a school of the people if it’s also striving to be super-exclusive and super-expensive? It’s not an easy dilemma.In the end, there are a few twists, and some things are resolved. But this isn’t at all a plot-centered novel. We never really do understand what motivates Omar or why the school never confronts the rejected professor (who begins giving interviews, alongside Omar, suggesting he was denied tenure because of his skin color). Several incidents that happen on campus are never solved, although we can probably guess who was behind them. But Naomi does come to see some of the greater truths she had until then ignored. And the novel does have a satisfying ending (much more positive and affirming than I expected).Bottom line, if you enjoy literary fiction written in a lively, satiric voice, you’ll probably love THE DEVIL AND WEBSTER. Korelitz’s narrator reminded me a great deal of Flaubert’s in MADAME BOVARY – both tell their stories with a sharp twist of the knife and a keen eye for hypocrisy. This is a novel about one woman’s struggle to remain true to herself, as well as to the college she both runs and loves. And it exposes a lot about what goes on in higher education today, no matter what the brochures and lofty mottoes say. This is an excellent novel, and I highly recommend it.[Please note: I was provided an Advanced Reading Copy of this novel free of charge; the opinions expressed here are my own.]

  • Trevor Pearson
    2019-02-26 23:16

    Received a copy of The Devil and Webster by Jean Hanff Korelitz through the GoodReads First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest reviewA little known school with just as much age and privacy as the other more highly regarded Ivy League schools hides in plain view in the New England woods. There's this saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity, but the administration of Webster College would say your mistaken. President Naomi Roth dreads change, her life prior to the birth of her only child Hannah was filled with contempt; contempt for a husband that led to a failed marriage, and for a stagnated career that impeded her climbing the organizational ladder. She had enough on her plate being a young Jewish woman and new mom with ambition, Naomi was also looking to follow through on the promise she made herself of continuing the fight she vociferously started years prior. A professor of Feminist & Gender Studies, Naomi achieved greater standing as the Dean of Women's Affairs and ultimately the first female president of Webster College. Naomi's world seemed to be correcting itself, but along the way she transformed into a person she once despised during her rebellious phase as a passionate student radical and what alarmed her most was that she didn't see the change coming."Talk, she wanted to say. Open your fucking mouths with their years of orthodontia and use those expensively educated voices to articulate your pathetic complaints about this... this halcyon, evolved, rarified, creative, and intellectual college campus, where you are free to learn and nap and make things, and have sex, and get high and change your fucking gender even, and clean water comes out of the tap and you wave your school ID under a scanner to help yourself to smorgasbords of food (meat! meat alternative! vegan! lactose-sensitive! nut-free! gluten-free!) and all we expect of you is that you pass your classes and don't hurt anyone else. But she didn't say these things. Of course she didn't say them."Hannah had naturally followed in her mother's footsteps, born with certain societal and political ideologies right out of the womb. She spent the majority of her life living with her mom in the mansion designed for the President (which was built for a male) that had been around since the school's inception. Hanna enrolled at Webster much to her mother's chagrin and studies history. Hannah has started to question her mother's ability to respond to student grievances, and while Naomi says there isn't enough time, Hannah believes she just doesn't care. Naomi's ambition has lead her to be responsible for thousands of students with a registry that's only getting longer, while also writing and administering policies, and lobbying alumni for increased donations due to low state funding. This inner drive has transformed a voice for the silenced into a smooth talker, an entrenched part of the furniture in the bowels of the establishment. Naomi always thought of herself as a solution to the problem, but over time she realized she may have been the curator as she gained acceptance into the tribe, the intellectuals that she once took issue with had now become her colleagues."Naomi, at this, reached some kind of internal barrier. Yes, there was camaraderie in foxholes. Yes, there was humor (usually black) on the barricades, but only in proportion to the deadly serious matter at hand. Civil rights. Free speech. Women's liberation. Vietnam. Reproductive rights. Gay liberation. Animal rights. Let the refuseniks go. Euthanasia. Gun control. And this was supposedly about one guy not getting tenure? What was going on here?"Webster's mission statement should be: 250 years of comprehensive institutional racism and intolerance, a history of giving in to temptation, compensation, and compromising integrity. Veritas. Webster has evolved quite a bit over the last twenty years. What once was founded upon the Conservative Caucasian male had transformed into an enthusiastic, culturally diverse and progressive student body with varying matters of opinion and an open forum to express them. It seemed like a great idea at the time, then shit hit the fan (or wall) and the people took to the campus gathering place called The Stump for some good old fashion mudslinging. The lesser represented demographics still felt unwelcome in a purported liberal institution filled with great carers, deep thinkers and solidarity among all. The conflicts began when a popular Anthropology professor was denied tenure. On the surface it seemed unbelievable that a person of his regard, where every term he was greeted by oversubscribed classes, would be disrespected by the institution that started to modernize during his time. The students reasoned that it was because of his skin colour, on an administrative level if you dug deeper, he failed to maintain the ethic required of educational staff, he didn't extend himself outside of teaching, and neglected to meet the publication requirements of a tenured professional, let alone one that should be aspiring for that status.Modern protestations are regarded half-heartedly by passersby, with more focus on twitter mentions, snaps, follows, and likes. There's little fire, brimstone, and tanks; merely popularity seekers looking for attention rather than respect and constructive discussion. Naomi thought it was best suited to just wait them out, there was bound to be something to come up to drive their attention elsewhere. One young man would change all of that. His story stirs sympathy, his voice puts a charge in the rest of his peers as a call to action, and when the one man who gave him a chance is denied an opportunity, Omar's passion gains the support of many looking to make a change for the greater good. The students feel like they are standing up for what's right as the plague of Webster Dissent infects, and campus discourse penetrates the Webster shield. Naomi's seat is getting hot and her leadership is under scrutiny, being compared to some of the most impulsive and emotional leaders of the past. Unfortunately for Naomi there was more to the story, but as the school faces increasing media attention, more pressure from tuition-sunk parents, more protesters taking to The Stump, Naomi would have to figure something out fast."His dream among open sewers and plastic bags flapping in the dry air and the sacks of grain from World Concern and the brave little soccer skirmishes on the broken ground under the lights on the perimeter fence...far, far into the distance. The sorrow and boredom and filth, the anguish of watching his loved ones taken, one after the next until he was alone, the ache of wasted time as other boys in other countries got to study, dream, plan, move forward into their futures while he could only sit still: immobilized by frustration, tormented by longing."A lot can change in a decade, as close as 2006 may seem to be, from a social standpoint it is quite far away. Case in point, the world had no time for situations involving gender dysphoria, it was just coming around to easing the burden of embracing sexual identity, and if the world was not ready, then Webster was far from ready. The idea of protecting some students and not all was going to lead Naomi into a PR maelstrom. Like all things when change is involved, it takes time, social acceptance has come a long way since segregation but there's more of a hill to climb. The Devil and Webster is a commentary on many of the issues facing the world today, as well as a look at a person's naiveté when evaluating information. The book reflects the state of the world as it is currently constituted with respect to accountability as people respond to a lie with a lie, meet misinformation with more misinformation, which in the story leads to a power struggle between what some see as established self-righteous bigots against entitled neophytes. With lawsuits, hate crimes, vandalism, bomb threats, leaks, slander, privacy, and confidentiality, the conflicts in this story are plentiful and the willingness to bring these issues more light is admirably and not over done. "Later, Naomi could begin to understand how she'd been capable of such a neat bit of self-delusion, and the essence of it was this: She was...not...herself. She had been under assault for months, even before she'd recognized what was taking place as both personal and intentional."