CRITICAL PRAISE for Still in Love, published in January, 2019.
A novel replete with the joy, cynicism, excitement, frustration, and other deep emotions that we often find accompanying any worthwhile, profound learning experience. Take one highly rated creative writing teacher, Mark, his colleague, the Professor, put in the fictional Hellman College and you have a recipe for a witty novel. Still in Love, Michael Downing’s follow up to the successful Perfect Agreement, is an ode to teaching that is spot on the pulse of contemporary academia. —read the complete review in the New York Journal of Books
Downing’s witty follow-up to Perfect Agreement satisfyingly transports readers to college as teacher Mark Sternum begins winter term at Hellman College in New England. Mark’s highly acclaimed creative writing class is filled with 12 students, yet hopefuls line the classroom to listen to the writer’s workshop. Mark jointly teaches with the Professor, a distant man whom the students fear as much as they feel at ease with Sternum. This term is challenging for Mark as he tries to fill the void left by Paul, his partner of 30 years who is currently overseas, by staying at Paul’s condo more than in his own house. The students, meanwhile, dissect each other’s work and try to sort out their lives. Mark takes an interest in Anton, a student whom he learns is battling cancer. In addition to focusing on his own writing, Mark stresses over an important departmental report, and even though he’s tenured, he likes to please and allows union meetings to be held in his office. In depicting Mark’s ordinary semester, Downing poignantly illustrates the dynamics of the college classroom as well as its potential for lasting lessons, making for a resonant campus novel.—Publishers Weekly
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.” —Booklist
Brilliantly sly and ferociously precise. Michael Downing writes about the idiosyncrasies, possibilities, and limitations of the classroom with wit and rare tenderness. Still in Love is a joy.--Jennifer Dubois, author of Cartwheel and A Partial History of Lost Causes
This novel is a treasure – at once hilariously funny and genuinely moving. Downing gently pokes fun at university politics and the comedy of manners that every teacher witnesses on a daily basis. But don’t be fooled by the laughs. It is also a subtle, exquisite love letter to teaching, students, and the sacred space of the classroom.–Alexandra Zapruder, author of Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film
By means both wry and warm, Michael Downing elucidates the meaning of the classroom—its space for reflection, rumination and pause—in a world that doesn’t seem to be stopping. Still in Love reminds me why he was one of my favorite professors ever.–Melissa Broder, author of The Pisces and So Sad Today
Still in Love is a rare occurrence in the book world, a lyrical and compassionate novel that is whip-smart and laugh-out-loud funny. And filled with terrific characters—a whole college classroom full, each more irresistible than the last. In conferences, lessons and hallways chats, Downing captures the alchemy of teaching and learning. Along the way, he sounds the complex notes of race, beauty, heartbreak, grammar, gender, mortal illness and growing up, but we never feel instructed, only enlightened. And deeply moved. Anyone who teaches anything should read this. (And for those in the business, the writing exercises included here are the best I’ve ever found.) But so should anyone who cares about young people, and learning, and love.–Michelle Blake, creative-writing professor and author of the acclaimed Lily Connor mysteries