On the Bookshelves

First Fiction

Spoofing campus politics and political professors

Illustration
Justin Renteria

What happens when academics ‘go rogue’?

Professor Richard Fallon, an eminent constitutional law scholar who has taught on the faculty since 1982, has written his first novel. “Stubborn as a Mule,” published by Strategic Book Publishing, is set at a small liberal arts college in Maine. The school’s president, a right-wing economist, tries to unseat a Republican Senate moderate (and HLS grad). A mule—the school mascot—turns up in the president’s living room, and worship of unregulated markets is spoofed in this comic romp of a story.

Although Fallon grew up in Augusta, Maine, and worked for a member of the House of Representatives in his first job out of college, the novel, he says, has nothing of his former employer in it, nor does it draw on anyone he’s worked with during his many years at HLS. Yet its melding of academic and congressional politics provides the perfect opportunity to spoof a trait he’s witnessed in both arenas: overweening ambition.

“I’ve seen a lot of it, and some of it strikes me as over the top,” he says. And when it’s over the top, he adds, it’s fair game for satire.

Fallon says he’s long loved academic comedies of manners—such as Kingsley Amis’ “Lucky Jim.” He’s also a great admirer of the political comic fiction of Christopher Buckley.

Some of the satire in his novel may be broad, he admits. “[But] talented people lacking self-awareness sometimes turn into caricatures of themselves.” The book may push a bit far, he says. “But the distance between what one observes in life and what is a caricature is measured in inches rather than yards.”

Among those caricatured most vigorously are free-market economists—in the book, they propose selling everything from babies to organs to admission to Brewster College, the fictitious institution where much of the action takes place. Fallon regards himself as “intellectually pretty catholic” and “not somebody who is anti-economic analysis.” Still, he admits, writing those sections was especially fun.

Fallon completed the novel in about six weeks, after a scene came to him in the middle of the night. When asked about his next work of fiction, he says he’s not sure there’s going to be one. But when pressed further, he allows that he’s already written a scene—this time for a comedy about clerking on the Supreme Court. Fallon clerked for Justice Lewis Powell LL.M. ’32 in the 1981-82 term. But at this stage in the creative process, questions about the line between fact and fiction would be premature.

—Emily Newburger

On a More Serious Note …

On Dec. 7, Richard Fallon led a discussion at the Harvard Law Review’s annual Supreme Court forum covering articles in the Review’s most recent issue and reviewing the Court’s 2008–09 term. Among participants were Professor Adrian Vermeule ’93, who discussed his foreword, “System Effects and the Constitution,” and Professor Lawrence Lessig, author of “What Everybody Knows and What Too Few Accept.”

Watch a webcast of the panel.


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