Hardcover, 320 pagesExpected publication: April 2nd 2019 by Putnam
From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a novel about a struggling writer who gets his big break, with a little help from the most famous woman in America.
After years of trying to make it as a writer in 1990s New York City, James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at a major publishing house: none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Jackie–or Mrs. Onassis, as she’s known in the office–has fallen in love with James’s candidly autobiographical novel, one that exposes his own dysfunctional family. But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.
Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending, encouraging him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. Then a long-held family secret is revealed, and he realizes his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…
From the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus comes a funny, poignant, and highly original novel about an author whose relationship with his very famous book editor will change him forever–both as a writer and a son.
Steven Rowley’s The Editor is a jaunty, light read that attempts humor on every page. The opening of the novel, in many ways, reminded me of a duller, less funny version the wide-eyed Andrea Sachs of The Devil Wears Prada but from a male perspective. However, Rowley’s version read more in the vein of puerile than comical, and the jokes and moments of humor never really hit the mark for me. As I read this novel, the attempts at comedy only distracted from the reading experience, because they managed to take away from the book’s atmosphere rather than add to it. They fell flat and just came off as borderline YA, misplaced in The Editor’s setting. It’s possible that it was my own misunderstanding, but I was hoping for a more substantive read – something with a little more meat on the bones that I could really fall into. It’s possible that I would have responded better to this book if I’d known the type of humor that it was going for – borderline slapstick as the James Smale regales us with stumbling all over himself – and the fluffy way in which the story would be told.
Let’s start from the beginning: In 1992, James Smale is a writer living in New York City who hasn’t been published in years. What he has accomplished is a slew of soul-crushing temp assignments involving hours sitting in cubicle after cubicle; he’s witnessed the demise of his family unit on the subject of his homosexuality and he’s written a book about his mother. A cold woman he never really felt he knew, she is an accidental topic that spills out of James as a form of therapy while he tries to grapple with who she is and how they feel about each other. It is this book that lands him in the orbit of Jackie Kennedy Onassis. When James arrives at the publishing house to meet the editor who wants to buy his book, never in his wildest dreams did he imagine that it would be the Mrs. Onassis. He is dumbstruck and dumbfounded and worried how his mother, a devout Catholic and avid admirer of the Kennedy family, will feel about having her life read and edited by one of her idols. James and Jackie develop a friendship he never expected, and as they work together on his manuscript, she encourages him to go back home to confront his demons of the past so that he can write the perfect, authentic ending for the book. But when a long-held family secret is revealed, he realized his editor may have had a larger plan that goes beyond the page…
The Editor is a cozy read that pairs well with a mug of Earl Grey tea and warm footie socks. It leans into the territory of heartfelt, going for the heartstrings that for most of us are triggered by matters such as family, ailing elderly parents, apartheid within the ranks of a nuclear unit and the realization of finally meeting one’s goals. You’ll find all of that here, wrapped around a sincere writer still grappling with his past writer, his ice-cold mother, his now-estranged father and the Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in all her prim fineness and glamour. Jackie Kennedy Onassis, here, is painted as a real person – someone who waits in line at the copy machine and likes the occasional drink after work – and that portrayal of her I really appreciated. It was approachable and dynamic, as I’m sure Rowley intended for her to be. She quietly and demurely stole the show both as and in The Editor. However, the rest of the cast of characters would have interested me more if they’d been explored through a more profound lens, if the interactions between them had been conceived with more depth and less failed attempts at awkward humor. After a while, those attempts just make the read itself awkward for the reader, and that’s not the relationship I’d hoped for with this book. But alas, I don’t doubt that many readers will enjoy this novel. Just be prepared for what you’re in for – at times inane humor, a writer’s journey both personally and professionally and the effortlessly exotic bird that is the Jackie Kennedy we think of at its center. ***
*I received a physical copy of this novel from the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons in exchange for an honest review. Thanks so much to the publisher!
Steven Rowley is the bestselling author of Lily and the Octopus, which has been published in nineteen languages and is being developed as a major motion picture by Amazon Studios. He has worked as a freelance writer, newspaper columnist and screenwriter. Originally from Portland, Maine, he is a graduate of Emerson College. He currently resides in Los Angeles.
His new novel, The Editor (G.P. Putnam’s Sons) is coming April 2, 2019.