(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Most of The Dean’s December takes place in Rumania; only the last thirty pages are set in the United States, and these are divided between Chicago and California. At the opening of the novel, Albert Corde and his wife, Minna, have just arrived in Bucharest, where Valeria, Minna’s mother, is dying. They have come—in December—to be with her during the last days of her life. The bulk of the novel describes these last days and the efforts by Corde and Minna to communicate with Valeria. She is partially paralyzed and in intensive care; they want to be with her as she dies. This is no simple task. Valeria is in a Party hospital, and visits are strictly limited by a colonel in the secret service. A minor duel of wits, or influence, ensues, Corde pulling strings with the American ambassador and a famous journalist in an attempt to circumvent the colonel and see Valeria. Even after Valeria’s death, this “duel” with authorities continues over the arrangements for Valeria’s burial.

Another significant series of events is taking place in Chicago, thousands of miles from Bucharest. These events are recounted by means of flashbacks, mail arriving for Corde in Bucharest, and encounters with Americans such as the ambassador and the influential journalist mentioned above, Corde’s boyhood friend, Dewey Spangler. A student at Corde’s university has been killed; a black man is on trial for the murder. Corde follows the trial closely—he has personally posted a reward...

(The entire section is 610 words.)