(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In seventy brief and snappy chapters set at a Midwestern university called “Moo U.,” MOO offers up a portrait of contemporary academe as a theater for horseplay. At the center of campus is an old, abandoned abattoir called “Old Meats.” Locked away within Old Meats is Earl Butz, a grotesquely bloated white Landrace boar who is “the secret hog at the center of the university,” as if there were some dim, essential link between a research pig bred to swill and swell and a publicly funded university. Following the rhythms of a single, eventful academic year, Smiley employs an aggregate of styles and documents—catalogue copy, news releases, course assignments, interior monologues—to expose her Mooers to ridicule.

MOO offers less depth than breadth, the sense of establishing acquaintance but not intimacy with the wide range of activities and actors at a state university at the end of the twentieth century. Among dozens of students, faculty, and administrators is Professor Lionel Gift, an evangelist of consumerism who colludes with a Texas billionaire in a scheme to extract gold from Costa Rica, though it means destruction of the hemisphere’s final virgin cloud forest. Opposing them is the head of the horticulture department, an unreconstructed 1960’s radical known to all as “Chairman X,” as well as a secretary who knows all the campus secrets and wields more power than anyone else. An eccentric old farmer has a wondrous solution to Moo...

(The entire section is 480 words.)