Comprising five sections, each subdivided into short chapters, Unholy Loves moves through an academic year in the lives of the members of the English department at Woodslee University in upstate New York. Each section is introduced by a date on which a social event occurs: September 1, November 5, December 31, March 8, and May 10. At the center of each event is the presence or absence of Albert St. Dennis, famous English poet-in-residence, whom more prestigious universities have failed to attract to their campuses. The action of the novel takes place in the consciousness of the participants in the communal rituals of academia.
In the first section, the reader is introduced to the characters of the novel as they react to St. Dennis and to one another at a party given by the dean of humanities, Oliver Byrne, to welcome their famous guest. Not to be outdone, Lewis Seidel, who hopes to publish an article or book on St. Dennis, hosts a second party, this one after the poet’s first public appearance at the university. Seidel is embarrassed when St. Dennis fails to make an appearance. Competition for the attention of St. Dennis is most apparent during the New Year holidays, when it is obvious that those not invited to St. Dennis’s New Year’s Eve party find themselves at the Housleys’, where some of the guests are disturbed at having to settle for second best. In March, a social function at the Wallers in honor of a visiting authority on Russian ecclesiastical history is marked by mordant revelations about failing...
(The entire section is 630 words.)