Oxford Messed Up: A Novel by Andrea Kayne Kaufman (Grant Place Press, $24.95, 336 pages)
“I was lost, double crossed with my hands behind my back…” Van Morrison (“Brand New Day” – Moondance album)
Yale grad Gloria Zimmerman is so germ-phobic that she endures an overnight flight from Chicago to London and then an excruciating car ride to Oxford University without peeing. When she and her nearly bursting bladder finally reach her flat – and the private bathroom that she will sanitize and make her own – she discovers to her horror that she must share it with a neighbor. Not only that, but he is messy and dirty – and he is occupying the toilet when she arrives.
Gloria is a Rhodes Scholar who is studying feminist poetry. Her untreated Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has always prevented her from forming close friendships. But even though flatmate Henry Young, a music student and son of a priggish and disapproving Oxford don, is an “unrefined, germ-infested oaf,” he intrigues her. Or, more to the point, his taste in music does. They share a love of the music – and the poetry – of the iconic rocker Van Morrison.
That small spit of common ground is enough for love to wedge its foot between the door and the jamb. Henry embraces Van Morrison’s “fatalistic optimism” and dedicates himself to releasing Gloria from the prison of her cleaning compulsions. But is it enough to keep the door open when the true extent of Henry’s vile germs becomes apparent?
Author Andrea Kayne Kaufman is a lawyer and a professor of educational leadership at DePaul University in Chicago, where she serves as chair of the Department of Leadership, Language, and Curriculum. In an interview on her website, she speaks of her belief that people can overcome “irrevocable” damage with hard work and hope. Her characters Henry and Gloria both view themselves as unlovable. But as Van Morrison wrote, “It’s a marvelous night for a moondance…” and attraction compels them to muster the strength to try to help each other
Experts on OCD have raved about Kaufman’s sensitive and accurate portrayal of the condition as viewed from the inside. But readers of all stripes will appreciate Oxford Messed Up for its unique take on what it means to love another human being, warts and all, and for its profound message of hopefulness. Well recommended.
A review copy was received from the publisher. Oxford Messed Up is also available in a trade paper version for $14.95, and as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.