The Dark Side of Academic Life in the Ivy League

There is obviously a lot to recommend Ivy League schools: rigorous academic standards, a distinguished faculty, the chance to pursue a prestigious degree, becoming part of a community which offers the benefits of assistance and counseling in job searches. However all this comes with a price—pressure to excel, intense competition with one’s peers. meeting tight deadlines—for some the pressure is too much. They are inexorably drawn toward the suspension bridge over the gorge and even beyond—over the railing into the void.

Sometimes years go by with no suicides, followed by years where there are half a dozen, or even more. To counteract this, the university has inaugurated a program of suicide prevention, going as far as posting guards on the suspension bridges, sending counselors into the dorms looking for students at risk, and strengthening the barriers.

The present novel focuses on one death in the gorge—that of a graduate student named Deirdre Paxton, a beautiful but promiscuous woman; though a main character in the plot, she never appears alive in the book. Her death is particularly puzzling; why did she do it? According to people who knew her, her life was turning around and for the first time in weeks she was showing signs of optimism. Was it a sudden impulse? A feeling of identity with all the others who had died there through the years, their hands reaching out to her, something too strong to resist? The reasons for and circumstances of her death are the central questions in the plot. The novel provides surprising and shocking answers to these questions.

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