Daniel Greenstone, a teacher at Oak Park River Forest High School and an Oak Park resident, appeared at the Main Library on Tuesday, September 20 to talk about his debut novel, A Theory of Great Men. He spoke to an audience of about fifty people, many of whom seemed to know him.
Greenstone’s protagonist, George Cavaliere, shares many traits with the author—they are both history teachers who also coach basketball, are married and approaching forty. However, Greenstone insists that he is a boring, suburban teacher and hardly the subject for a novel whereas his protagonist is a bad boy.
One can hardly blame Greenstone for distancing himself from Cavaliere. who speaks recklessly about race, gender and culture. He has a penchant for dropping f-bombs and he is a relentless skirt chaser. It’s no wonder that he gets himself in trouble. In fact, given his free-wheeling ways I wondered how he managed to survive 15 years in public education, especially in a fictional suburban public high school known for being politically correct.
Despite the antics of the main character, Greenstone takes pains to show that underneath all that lack of charm is a sincere person who matures as the story progresses. Greenstone is an expert on Curious George and his hero reminds me a good deal of that mischievous monkey. I don’t buy that Cavaliere changes from a jerk to a sensitive guy in a few months. I know he has had several experiences that encourage this, but he’s been a scamp for so many years it’s hard to believe that he can make himself over sustain that radical of a change to his character.
Nevertheless, the novel has a wry and irreverent tone that is fun to read. The story moves at a brisk pace as Cavaliere makes one incredibly foolish decision after another. You know from the start that he is going to implode. His sarcastic remarks and unkind attitude towards everyone makes me wonder how it is that he ever had any friends or was able to find a nice girl to marry. He is just this side of being a bully and like all aggressive people doesn’t like others who are like him.
I thought the book was well-written, though, and contained enough about the travails of teachers, male sexual fantasies and information about history to be thought-provoking as well as entertaining. It is available locally at The Book Table.