William Henry "Hank" Devereaux Jr. and Charlie Thurber are two men lost in the realm of college departmental politics. The main character in Straight Man, a novel by Richard Russo, William Henry "Hank" Devereaux Jr., the son of an English professor and critic, who wrote a novel, Off the Road, early in his career, but he has produced nothing since. Hank likes to believe that he lives life by Occam’s razor, despite the complexities that continue to beleaguer him. He is the reluctant Interim chair of a small town college in Pennsylvania, who is facing a mutiny of his staff in the face of rumors of cut- backs and layoffs. Charlie Thurber, the protagonist of Tenure, a film by Mike Million, starring Luke Wilson, Gretchen Mol and David Koechner, is an English professor at small town college who needs to publish something to have a shot at tenure. Working against him is the fact that the college English department has hired an Ivy League professor on tenure track. His father is a retired professor who currently lives in an assisted living facility and is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. It is never stated where the fictitious Grey College is, but it was filmed using colleges in Pennsylvania.
Hank and Charlie share some very close similarities. Both are beleaguered college English professors in small town colleges. They both have fathers that are celebrated college professors that are now at a stage of declining health, which they have estranged emotions about. They both have hit a professional roadblock of sorts. Hank has not written anything since his first novel, and Charlie cannot get anything published. They both entertain the whims and partially the fantasies of two interesting students. Hank has a student who writes too convincingly about necrophilia, while Charlie has a young Chinese student who is obsessed with erotic poetry. They both have female acquaintances that are continual sexual temptations. Hank has his secretary, a colleague’s daughter, and a few more. Charlie has a female student who continually attempts to seduce him and his competitor Elaine, with whom he becomes more interested in with each passing encounter. One common trait they both share is the uncanny ability to make bad decisions on how to deal with current difficulties in their lives. To deal with frustrations and anger over the budget for his department, Hank dons funny glasses with a fake
nose and promises to kill a duck a day from the Campus pond until he is given a budget, while being filmed by the local television channel. In Charlie’s case, Elaine is lead to believe that Charlie is gay (by Charlie’s best friend, who we will discuss later). To prove he is straight he hires a PBS telethon volunteer to be his escort to Elaine’s dinner party. As it turns out his date has a boyfriend who just so happens to be a police officer, bisexual, and insists on driving them to dinner. Bothe men have a very sarcastic demeanor.
Though there are a lot of...