Miracle worker.

Miracle worker.

Miracle worker.

Notes from the political sidelines.
Sept. 4 2005 4:05 PM

Miracle Worker

Bush longs for James Lee Witt, the Clinton man he should have kept.

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This spring, Curtis Sittenfeld  lit up the style pages and the best-seller lists with her first novel,  Prep. The book tells the story of Lee Fiora, a girl from South Bend, Ind., who heads East to Ault, a tony, private boarding school for rich kids. Lee's Midwestern mores are no match for Ault's arid elitism, and by junior year she is as heartless, insufferable, and dull as the sons and daughters of families who have attended Ault for generations.

Prep's main selling point was its ring of truth. Sittenfeld, who went to Groton, remembers all the reasons boarding school made her miserable, and she sets them out in vivid detail to get even.


Now, thanks to reams of Roberts profiles, we know that Lee Fiora didn't have to travel 1,000 miles East to find a tony, private boarding school. There was one in her own backyard.

Little Big Man: Roberts prepped at La Lumiere, an exclusive private boarding school in LaPorte, Ind.—just 25 miles form South Bend. Like Sittenfeld's anti-hero, Cross Sugarman, Roberts was the BMOC: getting elected proctor, captaining sports teams, and getting into Harvard. Unlike Sugarman, Roberts didn't set out to bed every woman in the class face book. He was too busy fighting to keep the school from going co-ed, so there weren't any.

For the most part, Prep is the tale of the excruciatingly tedious youth he could have had if he weren't so interested in Latin class. As The New Yorker review put it, "Any feelings of nostalgia for adolescence should be dispelled by the exacting intimacies of this first novel."

The high point of Lee Fiora's high-school career is when she spills her woes to a New York Times reporter, who writes a page-one story Roberts would not like to be in, about all the ways that wealthy kids at boarding schools look down on scholarship students.

La Lumiere is co-ed now, so Lee Fiora could have gone there and made Peppermint Patty an honest woman. If she had, she might help us understand why John Roberts went to boarding school a few minutes from his parents' home.

Random House, though, knew better than to publish a book called Midwest Prep. Boring is fine for Supreme Court nominees, but not for best-sellers. ... 4:08 A.M. (link)