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.
Fraternity’s eight stories look at Delta Zeta Chi from eight different angles, but the essentials remain the same throughout: the bro-life nicknames like Borat or Oprah or Nutella or Dracula, the deployment of the starched minimalism that has become a staple of contemporary Yaddo/MacDowell fiction, the carefully code-worded misogyny, and, unfortunately, the serial mistaking of poor, jumbled prose for cool-cat idiosyncrasy ... Nugent’s book is only one workshopped story north of 100 pages, and yet it absolutely brims with the anomie and nihilism that gives so much modern fiction the affect of a muttering Goth teenager. His young characters do crappy things to each other for crappy reasons that are only ever transactionally assessed by either the characters or the author. It’s a gray landscape and an inherently uninteresting one, since it’s exclusively inhabited by vacuous, self-obsessed idiots. And since if the characters were to grow or change or improve in any way that would imply that the author is a simp, a cuck, an uncritical tool of cultural propaganda, the characters never grow or change or improve.