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"Review of Julius Taranto's 'How I Won a Nobel Prize' – Masterful Critique by a Former Recipient"

by former winner “Review of Julius Taranto’s ‘How I Won a Nobel Prize’ – Masterful Critique by a Former Recipient”


Julius Taranto’s “How I Won a Nobel Prize” is a captivating novel that delves into the realm of art and politics, aiming to mock the strict adherents of radical wokery and the old-fashioned dinosaurs of the conservative right. The book cleverly adopts the style and pays homage to renowned literary figures such as Roth, Bellow, and Updike – a move that goes against the current trend of neglecting these authors in the American literary canon. Furthermore, in a bold defiance of those who may seek to find controversy, Taranto, a white male and former lawyer, writes from the perspective of a young Jewish woman named Helen, a graduate student. His depiction of her sexual exploits, including a description of masturbation reminiscent of Philip Roth’s writing, showcases his blatant disregard for societal expectations.

The initial setup is effective in conveying the dark and satirical nature of the world in which the story takes place. Buckminster Witherspoon Rubin, a financier, is ousted from his investment company due to an unspecified offense and is also forced to resign from Yale’s board. In response, he purchases an island off the coast of Maine and creates the Rubin Institute, also known as RIP, with a main focal point being a towering skyscraper called “the Endowment”. This building allows the founder to physically look down on Yale. The institute is unique in that it welcomes those who have been rejected from traditional academia for political reasons or misconduct, with a bold statement of “Give us your cancellees and deplorables, your exceptional misfits, we will take them!”

Helen is under the guidance of Perry Smoot, a renowned scientist who has won a Nobel Prize and specializes in high-temperature superconductors. Due to a noncriminal violation, Smoot has been removed from Cornell. As a result, Helen and her husband Hew, who is a vegan technologist, must also leave. Helen’s main focus is resolving the urgent issue of how to improve the efficiency of electricity transmission through wires. In this aspect, Taranto’s knowledge of the science is commendable. One interesting scene involves a cynical author similar to Roth, who turns to Helen for assistance with scientific aspects in his latest book. He advises that writers should have a deep understanding of their subject matter, even if they do not explicitly showcase it in their work. This is a playful nod from Taranto, whose extensive research on electromagnetics is highly convincing.

Helen and Perry are attempting to save the world, but Hew is becoming increasingly uncomfortable on the island. He attends marches with the disorganized group Action for Justice to try and determine their cause and opposition. During a counter-protest, the violent Knights of the Right kill multiple protesters. Meanwhile, Helen continues working despite these events. The novel reminded me of Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles, a dystopian story, while I was reading How I Won a Nobel Prize. However, the ending of Taranto’s novel is more optimistic compared to Shriver’s typically desolate endings. It may seem like a bit of a letdown after all the dark elements leading up to it, but it showcases the author’s talent and the complexities of the story.

Source: theguardian.com