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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2/24/2009
  • Publisher: Anchor

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Nestled in the heart of the Midwest, amid cow pastures and waving fields of grain, lies Moo University, a distinguished institution devoted to the art and science of agriculture. Here, among an atmosphere rife with devious plots, mischievous intrigue, lusty liaisons, and academic one-upmanship, Chairman X of the Horticulture Department harbors a secret fantasy to kill the dean; Mrs. Walker, the provost's right hand and campus information queen, knows where all the bodies are buried; Timothy Nonahan, associate professor of English, advocates eavesdropping for his creative writing assignments; and Bob Carlson, a sophomore, feeds and maintains his only friend: a hog named earl Butz. In this wonderfully written and masterfully plotted novel, Jane Smiley offers us a wickedly funny comedy that is also a darkly poignant slice of life.

Author Biography

Jane Smiley is the author of eleven novels, as well as four works of nonfiction. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize, and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. She lives in Northern California.



Old Meats

FROM THE OUTSIDE it was clear that the building known generally as "Old Meats" had eased under the hegemony of the horticulture department. Its southern approach, once a featureless slope of green lawn, was now an undulating perennial border whose two arms embraced a small formal garden defined by a carefully clipped and fragrant boxwood hedge. In front of that, an expanse of annuals flowed down the hillside and spilled across flat ground in a tide of August reds, golds, and yellows. Here and there, discreetly placed experimentals tested the climate. Right up against the long windowless southem wall of Old Meats, someone, sometime, without benefit of application, grant, permission from administration or grounds crew, without even the passing back and forth of a memo, someone had planted, then espaliered, a row of apricot and peach trees. In midsummer, just at the end of summer session, they were seen to bear fruit--heavy burnished apricots and big peaches swollen with juice that later disappeared and never seemed to reappear on the salad bars or the dessert bars in any of the dorms or fraternity houses. Nor were they sold at any hort department fund-raising sale, the way apples, Christmas trees, and bedding plants were. They just appeared and disappeared, unnoticed by most though legendary to the few who had stolen fruit, who kept an eye on the seed catalogues, wondering when these cultivars, the Moo U. cultivars, might be introduced to the open market.

In fact, though it stood much in the way of foot traffic from the Bovine Confinement Complex, the Business College, the Chemistry building, the foreign travel office, and graduate student housing, and though, as generations of freshman geographers had found, it stood on the exact geographical center of the campus (unless you included the recently constructed Vet School two miles to the south, which threw everything off), and though it was large and blocky, Old Meats had disappeared from the perceptions of the university population at large. This was fine with the horticulture department, for certain unnamed members and their student cadres had just this summer laid out an extension of the perennial border to the east, curving in wanton floral revelry toward Old Meats' unused loading dock and Ames Road. So much, said the Chairman in private meetings with the rest of his faculty, for their assigned garden site, out by the physical plant and the bus barn, on a dead-end road that no one travelled unless lost. Guerrilla action, as he often remarked to the woman everyone including their children thought was his wife and whom he had met in SDS at the Chicago convention in 1969, was as protean and changeable as the needs of the people.

It was also true, however, that Bob Carlson, sophomore workstudy student, was as invisible to the horticulturists, though he passed them every day, as Old Meats was to the rest of the campus. No busy digger or mulcher ever noticed him unlock the door beside the loading dock and enter, though he did it openly and in full view, often carrying bulky sacks. To them, Old Meats was a hillock in the center of the campus, a field for covering with vines and flowers; to Bob, it was a convenient job, an extension of his life on the farm, but instead of helping his dad feed and care for a thousand sows and their offspring, Bob tended to only one hog, a Landrace boar named Earl Butz. Right on Earl's pen, Bob had taped up a sign that read, "Get big or get out." Every time Bob saw that sign it gave him a chuckle. It was just the sort of joke his dad would appreciate, even though, of course, he had agreed to tell no one, not even his dad, about Earl, Earl's venue, a sparkling new, clean, air-conditioned, and profoundly well-ventilated Ritz-Carlton of a room, or Earl's business, which was eating, only eating, and forever eating.

Just now, as Bob entered, Earl Butz was at the trough, but he noted

Excerpted from Moo by Jane Smiley
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