A student once asked Robert Klose for a trigger warning because they were offended by the “New Testament,” one of the texts he teaches at the University of Maine’s Honors College, he said.
The reading materials are challenging on purpose, so his answer was no, and the situation did not amount to much, Klose said. But the interaction was partly what inspired him to write his eighth book.
“Trigger Warning,” which is Klose’s third novel, was published earlier this month. Those curious about hot-button topics on college campuses, even if they do not work in higher education, will likely be drawn to the book. It also has a wider appeal because learning, whether at the elementary or college level, has become politicized, Klose said.
“This is a political issue more than anything,” he said. “People take sides. It ties into cancel culture, where if an invited speaker is thought to be objectionable by even a small group of students, the school could disinvite that person.”
The book follows Tymoteusz Tarnaszewski, a biology professor at Skowhegan College who refuses to comply when the administration issues a policy requiring trigger warnings in all syllabi. It explores what “T,” who will be fired, will do when he discovers a student who lodged a complaint against him is a threat to the college — and that higher-ups knew all along.
Some Mainers may be enticed by the book simply for its setting “at the small Skowhegan College in the wilds of Maine,” according to the book description.
Klose could have set the characters in another state, but he would have missed details. He wanted to describe a place familiar to him because the writing is more charged, he said. He can speak to the five senses and details like the changing of the seasons, he said.
“There’s also something about the word Skowhegan,” he said. “I could have called it General College or something. But Skowhegan speaks to the indigenous legacy of the state, a sense of place and it has an appeal to the ear.”
Klose was a biology professor at the University of Maine at Augusta, a job that he retired from last year. He has worked at the Honors College in Orono for seven years, teaching a literature course to students in their first year.
Klose has written seven other books, including nonfiction, a children’s book and two memoirs about his experiences as a single man adopting his two sons from Russia and Ukraine.
“I wrote one page a day for 200 days, and at the end I had a book,” he said. “In a way, this book was the easiest to write because I knew how it would turn out. Normally I don’t know, and I let the characters guide me. This was like a blinking light on the horizon.”
“Trigger Warning” is available at publisher Open Books’ website. People can also find it at their local bookstores in Maine.
UMaine’s University Bookstore will host Klose for a book talk at 1 p.m. Oct 24. Klose will also be at the Bangor Authors’ Book Fair & Literary Festival, which is from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Bangor Public Library.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the date when Robert Klose is scheduled to give a book talk at UMaine’s University Bookstore. The event is Oct. 24.