poolesWriting a novel about college is tough. Hell, telling a college story in virtually any medium isn’t easy. Take a look at just about any of the books or movies or TV shows you’ve seen that try to depict some aspect of college life. Ask yourself,, “Does any of this, even remotely, identify with my experience?”

Chances are, the answer is an emphatic no. Either the story told is far too tame (Saved by the Bell: The College Years) or far too insane (every college movie ever made, aside from Animal House). Books don’t typically fare much better, trust me I know.

This is all a long way to introduce the fact that I recently read John VorhausPoole’s Paradise, a novel set at a university following the titular Alexander Poole and a few of his friends.

And, having read (and, if I may say, enjoyed) the book, I’m starting to understand exactly what is so difficult about the college story. As someone who has already given the college try to the college novel, what I’ve realized is that if you go for too ordinary and relatable, it becomes dull. If you go for too wild or crazy, it becomes a movie that, while potentially popular, is nothing like anyone’s time at school and almost morphs into another genre entirely.

In Paradise, Vorhaus attempts to straddle the line. While it’s certainly not simply “a college novel”, it’s hard not to get swept back to fonder memories when reading about days of the student union, the shared room (with a buddy you sort of can’t stand, sort of can’t live without—in this novel the fun-loving Donnie Dawkins), the casual weed smoking and even more casual time spent chasing girls and having fun.

As I saw it, the book had two distinct halves… one found you following the life (more specifically, love life) of our brutally honest protagonist Poole, the other found you following the whole mess of accidental trouble he finds himself in due to some shady, shall we say, “friends” he’s made.

Personally, I found the former far more enjoyable than the latter. That Alexander Poole, regular guy on campus, could find himself in a near-death situation with a crooked former cop and town drug dealer never really seemed believable to me, let alone captivating. Honestly, it does come off a bit forced—a sort of, let’s get some action into this story! type ploy.

However, what makes the novel work on the whole is Vorhausstory-telling. The characters he’s created (most specifically the college kids) are very believable. Poole’s roommate Dawk is just this side of pigheaded to be funny, just reliable enough to be a best friend. His ex-girlfriend Mel, the one that dumped him to reveal she was actually a lesbian, is the smarter-than-her-age type, though she also has her insecurities. And while the new girl in Poole’s life, Suzie, may fall in love a bit too fast for my liking, she also smacks of reality—that college chick that does everything 100%, from fucking to smoking to loving.

So, is Poole’s Paradise the perfect college novel, that incredible amalgam of relatable, nostalgia and fun? I’m not sure, but I’m also not sure it matters. Much like college, it’s a quick and fun ride and that’s enough for me.