Though this is a stand-alone, Downing’s loyal readers will appreciate the depth and breadth of Mark’s character arc more than 20 years after his introduction, in Perfect Agreement. Depicting striving adjuncts, grade-grubbing students, and smug professors, Downing fearlessly pokes at the least glamorous aspects of academia. Fans of Richard Russo, Francine Prose, and Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members will enjoy Downing’s clear-eyed view from the ivory tower.
Downing’s prose is as clean as you’d expect from a creative writing teacher at Tufts, but it never ventures out of the everyday and into the curious ... the story keeps its reach curbed and its eyes down until it culminates in a tired plot twist that only makes the narrow world of this novel even smaller.
The author has created a believable snapshot of the successes, trials, and missteps of tenured professor Mark ... Immersion in the daily life of Hellman College is fun-filled and entertaining, albeit with the odd overreaching joke and 'too preachy' ending. Despite these minor hiccups, throughout the story's twists and turns, the author artfully reinforces the value of one-on-one teaching to a world ready to embrace large scale online post-secondary education ... Downing's characters are believable, full-bodied, and entertaining ... Still in Love is a funny, flighty foray into the contemporary world of post-secondary education. It is a novel replete with the joy, cynicism, excitement, frustration, and other deep emotions that we often find accompanying any worthwhile, profound learning experience.
The prevailing mood is ambivalence ... That kind of wheel-spinning drains the action from the story. And as any writing teacher will tell you, the success of a story rests on the action that its central character brings to it ... Downing sets the town-and-gown scenery well, but there’s an irony in a hero advocating for active writing in such a static environment.