- P is for Predator
157 Pages; Print, $13.95
At the beginning of each fall semester, a young professor's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love—or, as Miss Jane: The Lost Years reminds us, thoughts of nubile, mild-mannered female undergraduates. Prof P, the antagonist of this drama in prose, has made such predation an annual tradition at his unnamed but somewhat identifiable public university. Though today's #metoo movement is sometimes criticized for its stridency, which precludes the possibility of misinterpreted signals or a spectrum of less hideous behaviors in the of gray areas in our conduct and discourse, there are no such easy-outs in this story from the "bully-boy" world. Instead there is in Miss Jane a brilliant defense of, and investigation into the education of, one generically named co-ed who is nothing but generic. For this and many other reasons, it should be roundly celebrated.
The sympathies of the Greek chorus that narrates this tale are clear from its ritualistic start. But in case of confusion, the chorus swiftly considers other possibilities. Balding and ridiculous Prof P might very well intuit in his student a chance to rejuvenate and redeem himself; he could even spark a new stage in his tenured but publication-bereft career. But no, as in Hell no. "Hey, Lying Pompous Asshole, we don't give a dump about you and your lying pompous asshole version…" of the events to follow, the chorus warns. "On these pages we call the shots and your fifteen lines are done." Omniscient but unconcerned with the male point of view, this chorus delivers its lines in an avalanche of language: trenchant, joyous, and witty. In addition to standing up for Jane, the chorus often delivers paeans to her countrified, or "Cracker," values and virtues.
Meads, a playwright, has structured her work not so much as a script but as stage directions. The Greek chorus comments on how characters think and act and how those thoughts and actions contrast with the inevitable unfolding of the events at hand. Each chapter is defined by its location, or the setting of the action. Meads seems to be saying that as long as older men are given the opportunity to prey upon the hearts and minds of younger women, such clashes, with all their psychological fallout, will be the result. For his part, Prof P will manipulate Jane into any number of settings, through which he hopes to establish complete dominance. But despite her [End Page 24] age and inexperience, Jane has an uncanny ability to make use of her resources, even where it seems she might have none.
This said, Meads' characters are both archetypal and individual. Jane is a "Cracker hick / chick" who "fulfills a quota…" for Prof P; she is woefully under-read and inarticulate, a first generation college student in need of just about everything Prof P has at his disposal. He is the recipient of two Harvard degrees, proudly displayed in his office. Prof P begins his first day of the new term being "fashionably late…" to class and bedecked in the regalia of rebellion against the establishment. What happens next appears predestined and therefore impossible, by both the rules of Greek drama and what we know today about abusive relationships, to escape from. It is only through the voice of the chorus that we might guess there will be a different outcome.
"How did this happen? How might it not?" the chorus asks. "In any universe actual or invented could our Miss Jane have sidestepped her lost years plunge with Prof P? Was what occurred—and will again on these (unsparing) pages—preventable?" Not likely, the chorus says, given that "…Our Miss Jane is a creature in flux, a being-in-progress, not altogether anything yet. As such she is overly susceptible to calculated ridicule, the readiest of suckers for agendas of improvement pimped by con artists in the shape of higher education despots."
Whether the persons or personalities involved could have avoided these circumstances, however, does not seem...