I picked up Smiley's book and started reading having absolutely no expectations and knowing nothing about the book other than most of her novels take place in rural mid-America. My five year old son did ask me how you spell "oink." Having no idea why he asked, he pointed out that the cover of my book has a pig that says "moo." Quite a conundrum for a five year old: the pig is a character in the book, the name of the university is Moo.
This book is great!! For anyone who has any experience with college life, this book is worth reading. She has an incredible ability to succinctly and humorously encapsulate the inanity of universities.
The one thing I would have liked while reading was a cheat sheet to keep track of all of the characters. Smiley follows close to two dozen characters through the book - undergrads, professors, secretaries, cafeteria workers: if this person can be related to the university in some way, they can be a character in her book. And her means of moving from character to character is refreshing. As a reader, you're in the head of character A who talks to character B. Now you're in B's head. Then B gets lunch for character C and suddenly you're seeing the world through her eyes. But, there were moments when I had trouble keeping Diane and Keri and Divonne and Lydia straight. I would be reading along and go "Oh yeah, 50 pages ago she was in her dorm room..."
The stories that seem terribly diverse at the beginning all come together near the end of the book and combine to make a coherent story. The less than honest guys get their comeuppance. The sweet freshmen survive their year. The professors, for the most part, end up happy than they started. The story did drag a bit in the middle, but every so often Smiley incorporated the funniest most honest perspectives on college life that it kept me reading.
I understand that Moo is no longer in print. To a certain extent the book is dated: communism has just fallen in Russia and professors are trying to integrate that into their belief systems. However, I don't think it is so dated that it isn't imminently readable now. If you can get a hold of a copy - read, enjoy, laugh. It's fun.