Chandler State University is the one thing keeping the dusty, Western town of Chandler on the map. Now that its basketball program has fallen apart, CSU’s only claim to fame is its Gravinics Department, dedicated to the study of an obscure European country—its mythology, its extraordinarily difficult language, and especially its bizarre star poet, Henderson.
Having discovered Henderson’s poetry in a trash bin, Stanley Higgs becomes the foremost scholar of the poet’s work, accepts a position at Chandler State University, achieves international academic fame, marries the Dean’s daughter, and abruptly stops talking. With all of academia convinced that Higgs is formulating a great truth, the university employs Orwellian techniques to record Higgs’s every potential utterance and to save its reputation. A feckless Gravinics language student, Samuel Grapearbor, together with his long-suffering girlfriend Julia, is hired to monitor Higgs during the day. Over endless games of checkers and shared sandwiches, a uniquely silent friendship develops. As one man struggles to grow up and the other grows old, The Grasshopper King, in all of his glory, emerges.
In this debut novel about treachery, death, academia, marriage, mythology, history, and truly horrible poetry, Jordan Ellenberg creates a world complete with its own geography, obscene folklore, and absurdly endearing -characters—a world where arcane subjects flourish and the smallest swerve from convention can result in immortality.
Interview with Jordan Ellenberg about The Grasshopper King, Rain Taxi, Spring 2003.
Ellenberg’s offbeat premise gives rise to plenty of witty observations and absurd situations that recall masters like Tom Robbins and Kurt Vonnegut Jr….Campus novels often tend toward the parochial or the arcane, but Ellenberg breathes fresh air into the genre.
Ellenberg’s keen sense of humor and propensity for drawing out the absurdity in collegiate obsessions …take center stage in this very strange and over-the-top but amusing novel.
“A brilliant debut: Jordan Ellenberg’s The Grasshopper King is perhaps the funniest and best-written ‘college’ novel I’ve read since Pale Fire-with a considerably more appealing cast of characters than Nabokov’s.”
“Jordan Ellenberg’s one of the funniest, flashiest, zaniest, cleverest and also one of the most intelligent and knowledgeable new young writers around. His first novel, The Grasshopper King, sometimes seems to have been written by the Marx Brothers; other times it’s just strong, sharp satire and a good story. If it brings half the laughs and enjoyment to the reader as it did to me, it’ll be pure pleasure.”
“A foul-mouthed misanthropic poet from a obscure corner of Europe inspires, in turn, a struggling college in the American West; a superstar professor who decides to stop speaking; and the lucky-in-love misfit student who must watch the professor (in case he starts speaking again). Thus runs the plot for Jordan Ellenberg’s The Grasshopper King–both the funniest campus novel in ages, and a slippery, serious-minded investigation of what happens when good languages go bad. If that’s not enough, the novel also offers sterling examples of competitive checkers; misguided institutional architecture; “ling-fic” (see below); syncretic cosmogonical folklore; and reasons why people regret ever leaving New York.”
–Stephen Burt, Rain Taxi