In a Massachusetts college town stands a dilapidated colonial: Delta Zeta Chi. Here, we meet Newton, the beloved chapter president; Oprah, the sensitive reader; Petey, the treasurer, loyal to a fault; Claire, the couch-surfing dropout who hopes to sell them drugs; and a girl known, for unexpected reasons, as God. Though the living room reeks of sweat and spilled beer, the brothers know that to be inside is everything.
... disarmingly lovely ... Nugent plunges us directly into the alternately repellent and lonely ecosystem of Delta Zeta Chi with 'God,' a riveting and often hilarious crash course on coed life ... Fraternities may be collegiate America’s biggest shame, but Fraternity is a revelation.
Idealized through...received wisdom and rendered into narratively compelling characters, the brothers of Delta Zeta Chi are not the raving drunks and violent abusers found when opening yet another viral article about some fraternity’s repugnant indiscretions, but somewhat—to use a controversial word—likable. They’re playfully homosocial ... while Fraternity is a charming collection and Nugent a sharp writer, the book is limited somewhat by its setting. The fraternal milieu would be much different had Nugent centered his research at a southern party nexus like the University of Georgia, or an upper crust terrarium like Harvard ... the one story in the collection that addresses hazing, is driven by the brothers’ belief that they can’t be as vicious to pledges as they might want because that type of treatment will go viral—nice of them, even as hazing deaths continue to happen every year. That’s perhaps a failure of imagination, though Nugent is free to write about what he wants. But it’s a convenient way of sidestepping the real darkness of Greek life, considering what a vicious ideological battlefield the contemporary fraternity is ... it’s the barbarians we’ve really got to watch out for, Nugent seems to suggest, the ones whose maintenance of inherently racist and sexist structures is finally coming up for debate and potential abolition. They’re nowhere to be found in Fraternity, but in the real world they’re everywhere, and you’d do well to take them seriously.
Nugent’s stories are paradoxical...alternately rough and sentimental, they boomerang between frat bro clichés...and moments of lyrical, existential reflection. The brutality of frat culture, Nugent suggests, is a veneer that hardly masks its devotees’ miseries and insecurities ... Nugent’s frat stars are seemingly well-meaning oddballs: more likable than the blustering, macho frat type ... One gets the sense that Nugent wants to resist the Animal House model, but the supposedly 'unproblematic' bro is a type, too ... Nugent tries hard to work through current debates in his fictional scenarios. The results can be illuminating and complex, but some of Fraternity’s stories end up reading as pat social commentary ... The most compelling stories in Fraternity are those that tend satirical, riffing on the mock-militarism that defines fraternity rituals and provides a pretext for male bonding ... Nugent...doesn’t seem to think that the frat bro can change. I do, though, which is why Fraternity fell flat for me in places. It provides—but never goes beyond—a kind of canned criticism. Still, there’s much to admire about Nugent’s style ... Nugent’s stories seem to suffer from the same problem these men did. Like a one-armed hug or a fist bump, they express some emotion, but leave much unsaid ... its meditations on male adolescence—with all its grim paradoxes, its fears and confusions—also transcend the frat.