Ken Tucker
January 19, 2001 AT 05:00 AM EST

Hynes takes the artistic ante accrued from his widely praised 1997 novella collection Publish and Perish and raises the aesthetic stakes, creating a daring comic novel of academe: Nelson Humboldt, a low-level university English professor facing a layoff, has the tip of his right index finger lopped off in an accident, then discovers that his reattached digit, when placed on another’s flesh, compels that person to do his bidding. The book is filled with broad jokes (Nelson sneers too easily at professors who ”do cutting-edge work on Doc Savage novels, the X-Men or Star Trek: The Next Generation”). But The Lecturer’s Tale eventually delves deeper, to become an exploration of middle-aged desperation whose fantastical element eventually brings Nelson to a hellish end that will nonetheless leave readers happy. B+

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