When the editor is a boldface name

  • by Roberto Friedman
  • Tuesday April 9, 2019
Share this Post:
"The Editor" author Steven Rowley. Photo: Courtesy Putnam
"The Editor" author Steven Rowley. Photo: Courtesy Putnam

"The Editor," a new novel by Steven Rowley (Putnam), takes off from the most promising of premises. What if a first-time novelist discovers that the book editor at Doubleday who signs on to shepherd his book through publication turns out to be Jackie? Yes, that Jackie, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who did in fact do a stint as a book editor at Doubleday in the early 1990s, when this writer's fantasy takes place.

By and large, Rowley gets away with the conceit. We are privy to writer-editor conferences where Jackie suggests to the author, James, that his ending is weak and needs revision. James is invited on a working visit to Jackie's compound in Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard. But there are also some scenes that test our suspension of disbelief, such as when James and Jackie sit down to watch Bill Clinton's acceptance speech at the 1992 Democratic National Convention together. Still, every time Jackie enters the story, there's delicious fun to be had.

The flip side of this gambit is that the chapters when Jackie is offstage inevitably feel flatter, more mundane. Since his novel is autobiographical, in order to find his ending, James must revisit his family, dysfunctional in ways we have seen before. A family secret is spilled in an altogether unconvincing way at Thanksgiving dinner. James is gay, and although he's thriving in a happy relationship with a struggling young theatre artist in the novel's present day, we get flashbacks to his uncomfortably closeted youth in the suburbs that are not much different from many similar portrayals in gay fiction. Finally, there is the uncomfortable fact that a novel about the struggles a novelist has coming up with a resolution to his novel may be thrillingly meta, but doesn't stir up much narrative interest among the general populace.

So Out There raced through the chapters concerned with family dynamics to get to the juicy parts, which almost all revolved around James' awe at his editor's poise, charisma, intelligence and work ethic. Late in the book there's a scene where Jackie takes James to lunch at the Carlyle, to deliver his galleys. We learn that JFK "was such a frequent guest" at the hotel as a senator in the 1950s that "they installed a private phone line just for him." After the tragedy of his assassination, "Jackie moved the children into a suite on the 31st floor as she hid from the world; the children would play in the lobby."

We also learn that the hotel's Bemelmans Bar was named for its murals by Ludwig Bemelmans, who illustrated the Madeline series of children's books. In a narrative aside, James confides, "I've read he also painted a private mural on Aristotle Onassis' private yacht, the Christina, but I know better than to mention that." James (and by extension, Rowley) has done his homework.

Passages like this are the cherries atop an altogether more workaday fruit salad. Boy, are we lucky that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is not our editor, as she would have raised an eyebrow at that clumsy metaphor, and promptly struck it out.

Impresario of Castro Street author Marc Huestis. Photo: Steven Underhill  

The book's publisher is doing full-court press for the rollout, and publicity materials include testimonials from publishing veterans who worked with Jackie in her time as an editor. Our favorite of these anecdotes recalls an editorial meeting in which someone opined that a book cover illustration looked too much "like cone-heads. Jackie leaned over to me and asked, 'What's a cone-head?' I explained about the characters on 'Saturday Night Live.' A few weeks later, when I saw Jackie in the hallway, she leaned in and said, 'Now I see cone-heads everywhere.'"

Hostess party

Since producing the triumphant Kim Novak Castro comeback last year, we've heard nary a peep from the normally loquacious impresario Marc Huestis. Until now. We're pleased to be the first to announce that Huestis' showbiz memoir, aptly titled "Impresario of Castro Street," will hit the streets on June 18. The 360-page tome features 100 gorgeous color pix. The Kindle version is now available for presale on Amazon, where it is already the #1 Bestseller in theatre biographies. The paperback will be available soon.

Huestis' book is chock-full of dish, featuring memories such as a knock-down, drag-out political argument with Harvey Milk, a dinner with Ann Miller in which her pricey ring slipped off her finger right into her mashed potatoes, Sandra Dee enjoying a foot message from a homeless woman in front of the Baghdad Cafe, Debbie Reynolds getting smashed in the private room at the 2223 Restaurant, and daughter dearest Christina Crawford ordering Huestis to get down on his knees to pick a few stray kernels of popcorn off the theatre carpet ("Christina, clean up that mess!"). Other celebs and stars receiving the full-on Huestis treatment in the memoir are John Waters, Karen Black, Tony Curtis, Jane Russell, Ann Blyth, and Patty Duke. Huestis is planning a star-studded launch event in the last week in June. It's still hush-hush, but check these pages for the full 411. It's going to be yuuuuge!