It’s a classic tale: the little guy fights for survival as big business encroaches. Except in Michael Hingston’s latest novel The Dilettantes, the little guy is The Peak, a university newspaper that talks and operates more like a zine, blitzing readers with a combustible cocktail of no-punches-pulled editorials and scrap-worthy comics, reviews and news pieces. Furthermore, The Peak isn’t just fighting for survival – it’s fighting for dominance.
The Peak’s editors Alex and Tracy are on the verge of tossing off their mortarboards, becoming free of obligations to their campus paper. But instead of letting that ship sink behind them (it already faces an increasingly indifferent student body), the loyal and devoted duo go guerrilla in their attempt to fight off a free, big-money daily that threatens to descend upon their campus, intent on scavenging upon the bones of The Peak’s readership.
Alex and Tracy know it’s going to take the story of the century (well, relative to their academic microcosm) to save their baby, and they’re pulling out all the stops. But the question before “How?” is “What?” Will they probe the mystery behind the viral video that was filmed on campus? Or spotlight the celebrity who’s fallen from the stars back to an incomplete degree at Simon Fraser University? Maybe these questions are irrelevant, and they’ll just concoct something libellous.
The Dilettantes’ humour comes through in the self-aware absurdity of The Peak’s low-stakes scramble for preservation and revitalization. The characters’ frantic, perhaps sometimes misplaced energy and urgency largely mirrors the pace of undergraduate life.
Though author Zoe Whittall calls The Dilettantes “a whip-smart and very funny literary portrait of the post-ironic generation,” it’s sure to at the very least resonate with anyone who has ever been a part of D.I.Y. cultures, worked in small business or who is familiar with the sometimes over-reactive environment of campus politics.