Those of you who haven’t yet gone through the college admissions process will think that my novel, GETTING IN, surely exaggerates how crazy things get. Those of you who have survived to tell the tale know the truth – which is that everything I wrote about could easily have happened, and in fact may have to someone you know.
I’ve spent most of my life writing non-fiction, and at first I thought about doing it again this time – writing an irreverent parents’ guide to surviving college admissions with your sense of humor and perspective intact.
But the world hardly needs another guide book. And besides, to me the family stories were far more interesting than the question of where a particular kid happened to get accepted or get turned down. I made up funny subtitles for a novel, to get myself in the right frame of mind: A Comedy of Bad Manners, or A Novel of Desire, because the way we behave seemed a far richer subject than the process itself.
I found myself rereading Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Dawn Powell, and thinking about family and ambition and dreams and competition. I began to look at college as yet another brand name acquisition, and to tally up all the unnatural acts people are willing to commit to get what they think they want.
And then I had fun with it – stretched it just until it got funny, without ever losing sight of the truth, which is that parents act out of love, and then that love goes goofy because there are dozens or hundreds of other parents trying to do the same thing at the same time. The whole experience gets warped because of all that energy, until the envelopes and emails arrive, and suddenly everything settles into place again.
If you’re lucky, that is. Not everyone in GETTING IN is lucky, not by a long shot. I think I made them up to make everyone else feel slightly sane by comparison, as they get ready to send their kids off to college. Or if not sane, at least not quite so alone.
But once a journalist, always a journalist, so trust me: There’s lots of advice tucked into the narrative.