At Eric’s Rotisserie, Bing sat outside by himself, nursing white zinfandel beneath the large sunshade that jutted from the center of his table, while blustery wind roamed across campus—swirling dead leaves and bits of trash around the chairs and tables, flapping the awnings on the massive umbrellas. The weather kept the patio abandoned, and Bing preferred it that way—no chatty couples nearby, no loudmouth students talking about sports, or, even worse, popular music. On this chilly afternoon, he didn’t care that he was alone. He didn’t care that he’d left his coat in his office. And, for a moment, he almost didn’t mind that his head wasn’t quite screwed on tightly today. In The Cosmology of Bing Mitch Cullin offers a tale of intersecting lives during one school year in Houston: the college student and his artist roommate, the reclusive poet, the astronomer studying a supernova at a remote West Texas observatory, the young Japanese woman hopelessly in love with her gay friend—and at the center of this group is Bing Owen, a college professor who drowns his heartbreak, paranoia, and secret desires with alcohol. It’s a darkly humorous novel about longing, buried feelings and muted relationships, forgotten poetry and thrown pies—in which the mysteries of love, the interconnectedness of individuals, and the inexplicable nature of attraction occupy the same microcosm as exploding stars, ghost lights, and specters from the past.
In his latest outing, Cullin (Branches) imagines the anxiety- and paranoia-ridden inner life of alcoholic social pariah Dr. Bing Owen, an aging, sexually repressed astronomy professor at Moss University, a sanctimonious private island of academia in Houston, Tex. Also examined is the raw youth of sophomore Nick Sulpy, avid reader of Walt Whitman and scientific journals, and the object of Bing's clumsy--and creepy--affections. Shunned by faculty peers because of his erratic behavior, Bing has been reduced to teaching an undergraduate lecture class. By night he hangs out in a piano bar, haunted by the distant memory of Marc, his sole male lover; by day he returns home to a loveless relationship with his wife, Susan, whose career as a poet was cut short by a cerebral aneurysm. Taking an immediate interest in Nick, Bing offers to give him special, private lessons in the seclusion of his home; unsuspecting at his mentor's obsession, Nick allows him to importune on his goodwill. A parallel subplot concerns Nick and his gay roommate, Takashi; the development of their friendship soon emerges as the most endearing and emotionally resonant aspect of the novel. Completing a sexually frustrated student m nage trois is thoroughly annoying coed Himiko, who flirts relentlessly with both boys. The three belong to a secret organization on campus called the Pi Crusters, whose m.o. consists of assaulting imagined enemies (ranging from religious zealots to a Nobel laureate) with pies, and it's not hard to guess where all of this is going. Slipping deeper into illness, resentment and desperation, Bing is forced to confront his demons. Despite a rather gratuitous happy ending, fans of Michael Chabon's early work might enjoy this earnest but erratic satire on desire, human frailty and hope of redemption.