Monday, August 1, 2011

Fight For Your Long Day: Adjunct Hell

Cyrus Duffleman has committed all seven deadly sins of literary blockage: "daily drudgery, anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, lack of talent and determination, and above all, laziness." These have "stole away any chance he had of concentrating for long enough to produce anything even loosely resembling a work of art."

We, the readers of Alex Kudera's novel Fight for Your Long Day, learn this about the Duffler (as Kudera is fond of calling his antiprotagonist) on pg. 14. And so we know right off the bat what we're stuck with for the next 250 pages. Forty-year-old Duffy is fat, lazy and horny, and that's how he must go through life. The novel chronicles his long day —  a Thursday in the spring of 2004 where he teaches three writing and English classes at three different Philadelphia universities, sleep-tutors through a tutoring session at a fourth, and completes a shift as a security guard.

But as hard as he seems to work, Duffy can barely make ends meet — pulling in a measly two grand per class for adjunct teaching gigs. And he's pissed about it. It's not fair. It wasn't supposed to be this way. 

I took a chance on this indie novel because it's purported to be a cross between a rollicking campus comedy reminiscent of Richard Russo's Straight Man which I loved, and A Confederacy of Dunces, with it's mad-at-the-world-and-misunderstood character, Ignatius Reilly. I love Ignatius Reilly — he's one of the best characters in modern literature. Sadly, Fight For Your Long Day is but a shadow of either novel.

It's supposed to be a comic novel, but it's overstuffed with Duffy's political musings (he's a bleeding-heart liberal) and his serious existential crises (has he ever really helped any student?) that there are few laughs to be had. And since you can't laugh at this character, all that's left is to feel sorry for him (his work is unrewarding, he can't get laid, he's just pathetic), and that doesn't exactly make this an enjoyable read.

I won't dismiss it out of hand. If you're a liberal English professor who's worked on an adjunct basis, you might like this novel (most of the positive blurbs seem to be from other adjuncts who can totally sympathize with the Duffler). It also won an Independent Publishers Book Awards gold medal for the Mid-Atlantic region earlier this year, so obviously, someone appreciated it much more than I did. And while laughs are far between, there are a few — the seven deadly sins of literary blockage, i.e., is pretty funny. And some of the rants against President "Fern," even if you don't agree with the politics, are generally amusing, as well. 2.5 out of 5 stars.



  1. Think I'll have ti skip this one for now, as I am about to start working as an adjunct at Olivet. If my life is going to be that dreary, I don't want to know :)

  2. I'm not going to read this book...but maybe I should, to remind myself why I'm NOT going to get a Ph.D in English.

  3. It does sound like an interesting premise. When I started reading your post, I immediately thought of A Confederacy of Dunces, so I'm glad you compared it to that work. Sounds like one I'll skip.

  4. Ellen summed it all. I will pass my turn.

  5. @Heather - If you're working as an adjunct, you should definitely check it out, actually. I think much of the humor may have been lost on me, as I'm not at all familiar with that world.

    @Ellen - Yeah, I hear ya - I'm still wondering if I should take on the MFA. But this novel didn't do anything to talk me into it.

    @Julie - Duffleman's a bit like a darker Ignatius - he is an interesting character. The more I think about the novel, the more I'm thinking I didn't appreciate because I was hoping for slapstick, and I got cerebral. Give it a shot!

    @Ben - See above - the more I think about it, the more I'm wondering if I had the wrong expectations, and that's what prevented me from enjoying it. You might more, though.

  6. I haven't read the book and it isn't on my priority list. But...

    ...I've just started my own blog and am leafing through other blogs for comparison. Easier to see the log in the neighbour's eye, you know....once I've seen it I try not to get it myself. But...

    ...I like your style. And that's why I wrote this comment.

    Rock on :)