Received a copy of Mental Dessert by M.H.C. Rice through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
"I felt like a toddler facing a long driveway of puddles. I imagined Academy Place as a club at one of the top Ivy League schools, one that teaches the secrets of creativity, with the full array of handshakes, slogans, and robes. I figured alums must have been sworn to secrecy, and now the leader of the organization was furious for knowledge of it was out in public.
This was the idea.
This was my chance."
James Cicero is an overweight, neurotic, meek, middle-aged man that lives with his wife Catherine and eleven year old daughter Alice and travels around in his rusted jalopy in the Bronx, New York. He is so self-conscious that he practices the delivery of jokes that he will say the following day, or the greetings he will give the workplace receptionist. James is on the brink of being fired, he can feel the tension from his editor and boss Alan Helmsley and the pressure to produce a noteworthy story. For twenty years James has worked as a senior writer for National Life magazine and with subscribers progressively-dwindling since the dawn of the internet age, job cuts may be in store and he seems like an easy, non-confrontational target. At the crossroads in his own career, his wife Catherine was recently fired from her job three weeks prior and their daughter Alice has recently become a nuisance for her prestigious school and is pretty much over it. It is safe to say that James' life is a perfect juxtaposition to that of his career and in both cases he is feeling the crunch and needs a little stimulus to rejuvenate. While in one of his Sunday night insomnia states that he affectionately has coined "insundia" James has found the big break that he was in desperate need of. While watching a film awards show on the television he heard a man during his victory speech mention an institution called The Academy Place as a big contributor to his success. Intrigued by the lack of familiarity with this state of higher learning, James spends a considerable amount of time researching this place but finds nothing. He comes to the conclusion that it is a secretive, hidden, mysterious but enlightening school that must be explored. Seeing that his job and in a sense his family is on the line James decides to take the plunge.
While trying to orchestrate an interview with someone with a connection to the inside he is continuously turned down or led astray. After providing his boss with a progress report (or non-progress report) Alan uses his winning charm and manipulation to get what he wants. In turn James is given a four week stay at the Academy so he can eat, breathe, and sleep at the facility to write a feature piece for the magazine. Located in Central New York, tucked away in a forested silence, the Academy enrolls eighty-four of the world's brightest and most creative in a mandatory four-year program. The school pulls out all of the stops to stimulate their students; each student is provided their own classroom, it is obligatory to learn one musical instrument, they are taught to become attentive listeners rather than note takers, they're given a diet of essential vitamins and minerals for aptitude. In their spare time the students are encouraged to develop their own languages, board games, sports.What you find with the "real" world is that most people worry about the details while the Academy focuses more on how to solve problems, and how off-the-wall ideas create great ideas. While James is settling in and forming friendships with a group of students to fully-understand the dynamics of the Academy, his boss Alan is constantly pushing and pulling James in different directions, distracting him from writing his heavily-invested exposé.
" 'I thought more about the challenges with the inner city schools. It made me think. I wonder if during the middle ages people paid as much attention when learning how to wield a sword in battle as students pay attention in school today?'
'I doubt it, if they didn't pay attention they would literally die.'
'I think you're right. I bet they hung on every word. EVERY SINGLE THING they learned meant the difference between life and death."
What we often find is that while we blame others for our own lack of success, more often than not we are are own impediment standing in our own way to achieving success. A compelling read with plenty of arguments and philosophical differences. My main take away from this novel was the exploration of the shortcomings of the education system and how if utilized with the right focus learning can in fact be fun. The goal of any parent is to maximize the potential of their child. But between your own occupational responsibilities and household up keeping, the presence of time, or more importantly yourself can really be spread thin. This is where educational institutions come in to play. Sure you can select a school based on proximity, accessibility or feasibility. But why not go the extra mile so when your children are grown and become music composers, scientists, five-star athletes, or CEO's of Fortune 500 companies you can be reimbursed properly. Or if they fail to live up to those lofty expectations you can be content with the understanding that you gave it your best effort.
I really enjoyed this story. There is not a lot of action, it is essentially a straightforward telling of a man's stint in a institute of higher learning. My main gripe is the lack of character development. As ever present as some of these characters seem to be, you really are not sure of who they are and what becomes of them. There are also some things that are hinted at throughout that novel that are not addressed throughout the rest of the novel. These things did not hold me back from thoroughly enjoying this story and I would recommend this book to anyone that enjoys a novel with plenty of interesting topics that bring about further thinking.
"I had a flashback of Alice as a child. Like most children, she had a fascination with puddles. She was compelled to stomp in them. Her desire seemingly increasing by how much damage the water would do to her clothes. I realized as I stood there in the rain that I was a lot like her. I was also compelled - as I think a lot of curious people are - to learn new things. The lectures and discussions here were my puddles. Continuing to stand there, I realized I needed a new hook for my article. I needed to show people the people's."