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Heidi Hart

By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general. 

A Pleasant Walk Down Memory Lane, But Otherwise Disappointingly Vapid

Commencement by Sullivan,J. Courtney. [2010] Paperback - Sullivan

This book was recommended by several Smith College classmates from the late '90s, but I have to say I'm deeply underwhelmed. Yes, it was fun for nostalgia's sake to read about familiar places (drinking at Packard's, skinny dipping in Paradise Pond, etc), and to recall those first few disorienting days after arrival as a first year (keeping straight all the acronyms, HONS and SAAs and JMG and so on). But beyond that pleasant jolt of recognition of the general, I was put off by how much I did not recognize the specific: the four main protagonists of this book did not ring true as real Smithies. Instead, oddly and disturbingly, they struck me as stereotypes imagined by someone who knew Smith well but didn't really enjoy or connect with the Smith experience--reminding me of the skewed, jaded reminiscences of a few friends I have who attended Smith briefly but then transferred to other schools because they were dissatisfied or even embittered by Smith. The descriptions of characters other than the four main protagonists are offensive and insulting (the House President is nicknamed "Jenna the Monster Truck", and everyone is described either as fat slobs who can't be bothered to groom themselves or emaciated sticks who talk about food all the time and like to puke in the shower).

I simply did not like any of these characters: they were elitist, shallow, alcohol-swilling narcissists for whom the entire Smith experience seemed to boil down to the novelty of making out with roommates and attending parties. (I remember a few elitist, alcohol-swilling classmates, and we were ALL narcissistic at that stage in life, but I don't remember any of my Smith colleagues being this shallow and entirely consumed by the ridiculous.) Although the author tells us that each of the four characters graduated magna cum laude, they all seemed to have completely escaped the incredible broadening of intellectual horizons that was the hallmark of my Smith experience. The only real discussion of classes or coursework involved a subplot where one of the characters was sleeping with a married English professor.

This book hits a lot of hot-button issues, but even where the characters explore the various facets of the topic through their divergent viewpoints, it is as if Sullivan is giving a debate team overview of pros and cons, rather than making the reader (at least this reader) believe that her characters truly understand the issues or have any unique light to shed.