A longer version of this review first appeared in the Kingsport (TN) Times-News.

The Undergraduate, a novel by Virginia attorney E. Scott Lloyd, published by Liberty Island Press and available for electronic download on Amazon, is something of a mixed bag. This coming-of-age story, told in the first person, is about a young man who is a college student at the turn of the century. He is from a small tourist town on the Jersey Shore, but attends a fictitious private school, Montpelier University, located in the mountains, probably the Adirondacks, and apparently affiliated in some way with the Roman Catholic Church. The school attracts a number of students from the narrator’s home town, including his closest friends and a young woman in whom he has an intense interest, but for most of the book, only a platonic relationship.

Many of us have embarrassing undergraduate memories we can do without, but the narrator of Lloyd’s novel leaps into a whirlwind of parties, binge drinking, marijuana use, and hook-ups that will exhaust many readers, but which is presented as typical of college life at the time of the story. For much of the novel, the only thing that keeps the reader turning pages is the sense that this young man is going to find his way out of that lifestyle somehow, some time. He is always aware that there is something wrong with it.

But there is one part of the novel that is truly compelling. The principal character has hooked-up with an attractive young woman who is the roommate of the girl in whom he is most interested. The hook-up girl seeks him out one weekend and tells him she is pregnant and that he is the father. He doesn’t doubt the assertion. Both he and the young woman are 19. Both acknowledge they are not ready to be parents. Both are Roman Catholics who have been taught abortion is the taking of life.

The narrator wants the girl to have the baby and put it up for adoption. But the notion of her parents finding out about her condition terrifies her, and she asks him to share the cost of abortion, repeating, “I can’t have this baby.” She refuses his pleas to reconsider. He goes to the abortion clinic with her and gives her the money requested.

The abortion affects both of these young people profoundly. The novel is not exactly clear on the stage of pregnancy, but it’s evidently sometime in the first trimester. There is no question of legality, and, because the young woman is an adult, no need for parental consent. Few know about it, so there is no gossip.

But they know, and they are troubled. Neither thinks they have had fetal tissue excised. They know they have done away with a baby. They finally find a kindly priest who hears their confessions, advises them that their baby is “not dead to God”, assures them of divine forgiveness, and starts them on the road to emotional recovery.

Neither character has an epiphany. Neither becomes a pro-life activist. There is no discussion of abortion law or the need for any kind of political action. The words “Roe v. Wade” do not appear in the novel. The story is about the protagonist’s personal moral and emotional journey, and in this segment, the parallel emotional journey of the young woman with whom he had relations.
The novel is about feelings and personal relationships, not public policy. The story of the young couple’s dealing with the woman’s abortion is easily the most gripping part of a novel that is otherwise uneven and at times tedious. (How many episodes about getting drunk and picking up girls do we really need?)

It is a pity, given the non-political nature of the novel, that so many left-wing media outlets have acted out so petulantly about it. Evidently, anything that presents abortion in other than the most glowing terms is unacceptable to some.

In the present polarized climate, this reaction is not surprising, although it is unfortunate. The novel is worthy of public discussion on its own terms. Those who read it looking for a polemic on abortion will be disappointed. Those who read it for what it is, the story of a young man’s struggle to escape a toxic culture of self-indulgence, will find it fascinating, but wishing it were more tightly-edited and missing some of the tedious episodes of alcohol abuse.

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