Saturday, April 6, 2019

Book Review: "The Editor" by Steven Rowley

Steven Rowley's The Editor really hit the spot for me. It was utterly charming, it had so much heart, and it dealt with some of my favorite subjects—family dysfunction, struggles with self-confidence, writing, secrets, and the relationships that crop up in the most unlikely of places.

James Smale has always dreamed of being a writer. After having his first few short stories published, he imagined the path to literary success would be easy. But writing a novel never seemed to come easy, and although he hoped inspiration would hit, he wondered if he was destined to be one of those people whose early promise fizzled out. Living in New York City in the early 1990s, it seemed as if he was more suited to random temp jobs than wearing the mantle of a writer.

Then he decided to write about what he knew better than anything—his relationship with his mother, an enigmatic woman whom James believed blamed him for the end of her marriage, since she had to essentially choose between him and his father. He is thrilled when he finds out that a major publisher is interested in publishing his novel.

And then he meets the editor who fell in love with his book—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie, or Mrs. Onassis, as she is known in the office, loves the complexity of the relationships in James' novel, and she identifies with the main character since she, too, is a fiercely protective mother. James is utterly blown away that this infamous woman, whose family was always a fascination for his mother, has taken an interest in his writing, and believes this novel is worth being seen by the world.

But Jackie believes James hasn't dug as deeply into his characters and their story as she thinks he can, and she pushes him to do so. Little by little their working relationship develops into a friendship of sorts, even as he wonders if someone as complex as Jackie can truly be known by someone like him.

The reality of the book is causing serious ripples in his relationship with his mother as well as his relationship with his partner, Daniel. He isn't sure if he can finish it, and then a secret is revealed which makes him wonder if he's telling the right story at all. As everything spirals out of control, James needs to figure out the truth about his relationship with his mother and needs to decide what he wants from his relationship with Daniel, but more than that, he doesn't want to disappoint Jackie.

I thought this was a beautifully written book, brimming with poignancy and complexity. James was complex and utterly appealing even when he was doing things that made him unsympathetic, and I couldn't get enough of his story. But Rowley's treatment of Jackie Onassis, meshing the familiar tropes with fascinating depth. I loved the relationship Rowley created between James and Jackie.

"I'm struck with profound gratitude that our paths have magically crossed for this brief moment of existence; she is, I see now, the only logical editor this book could have had. My book, my valiant quest to understand my own Arthurian legend with Igraine at the heart, to define my own Camelot, in the tender hands of Guinevere herself. My eyes well with tears even though knights are not supposed to cry."

This was a quick, immensely enjoyable read, and I'll think about this book for a while.

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