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Playing With Words

Playing With WordsAn acclaimed author and professor of English, Tufts’ Jay Cantor releases his third novel to critical praise. Medford/Somerville, Mass.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [01.22.03] Tufts English Professor Jay Cantor has no fear of words. His latest book, Great Neck, spans more than 700 pages. But with stunning reviews calling his work "smart" and "virtuosic," there is no doubt that the Tufts novelist will leave his readers wanting more.

"In Great Neck the 54-year-old novelist and Tufts University English professor draws on his Long Island roots to record the tumult of the ‘60s generation," reported New York's Newsday. "The novel follows a circle of friends from privileged Great Neck childhoods into the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements and beyond."

Cantor, who grew up on the Great Neck peninsula, sets his story in his affluent suburban community outside New York City. What he finds there, reported Newsday, is a cast of characters worthy of a story.

"Working on a vast canvas (more than 700 pages), Cantor employs these and a host of other characters to explore such topics as violence in politics, relations between races and generations, gay liberation and the abolition of the barriers between high art and low," reported Newsday.

The Tufts author, whose interest in comic books was apparent in his last novel Krazy Kat, continues the theme in Great Neck - a book which Booklist called "a virtuosic work of heart and genius" and " a great singing web of a novel."

"Cantor has asked himself what impressions from the popular press might have filled the heads of young American radicals circa 1968-9," reported Newsday. "His answer: The misfit superheroes of Marvel Comics."

In a profile of Cantor - a MacArthur Fellow - Newsday spoke kindly of the Tufts author.

"In person, Cantor seems more like Woody Allen than Philip Roth," reported the newspaper. "As funny and amiable as he is brainy, he is likely to steer every question toward a joke."

The Tufts professor - who has also published two books of essays, The Space Between: Literature and Politics and On Giving Birth to One's Own Mother - said he began writing as a child.

"I found imagining to be a way to escape the pain I was feeling," Cantor told the newspaper. "I liked to play with words."

The Tufts professor told the publication that he used outlandish characters in Great Neck to convey the book's theme.

"I intended Great Neck to be a book about the fantasies that shape people's realities, the sometimes murderous fantasies that make up our politics," the Tufts author told the publication.

Cantor - whose first novel, The Death of Che Guevara, was well received - said that the issue of fantasy was just one of many questions he sought to explore in his latest book.

"Is the world chance all the way down, or does it bend toward justice? Is there a place for violence in the political world? What are the roots of political violence?" asked Cantor.

More than 700 pages later, the Tufts author gives his readers a broad range of perspectives but no concrete solution.

"I revise a lot to avoid the answers," he told Newsday.

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