“The Editor” by Steven Rowley— Getting the Big Break

Rowley, Steven. “The Editor”, G.P. Putnam, 2019.

Getting the Big Break

Amos Lassen

Set in New York City in the 1990s, we meet James Smale finally sells his novel to an editor at Doubleday, a major publishing house where Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is an editor and has fallen in love the book. His book is his candidly autobiographical novel that exposes his own dysfunctional family. When the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to ruin fragile relationships, both within his family and with his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish writing. 

Working together, Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she pushes him to write an authentic ending. She pushes 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.

The intimate relationship between author and editor, as well as James’ unresolved issues with his mother, are at the heart of the story. Of course, this is fiction and writer Stephen Rowley does an excellent job of fictionalizing Jackie Onassis’ later years in NYC, as a book editor. She was at the point tired of being in the spotlight, and we see as an  intelligent, sophisticated and charming woman  life-long whose love of books brings her to Doubleday. She charms James with her experience and insight.  We see James as an engaging character who needs to come to grips with his past in order to put forward his best work. His vulnerability and feelings of not fitting in sets the tone of the novel and also puts us on his side, cheering him on. This is 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.

Rowley’s originality and sensitivity is evident on every page in this wonderfully crafted novel of self-discovery. We look at questions of identity, loyalty, and absolution within the bonds of family with sensitivity  and read about the symbiotic relationships that are the heart of every good professional and personal partnership.

 I found myself laughing out loud often and  at other times, I was sucked into the poignancy of the story. Not only is this a fun read but it is also profound and significant. Here is a son trying to understand his mother and himself.  We read of unlikely friendships, and how we go about collecting the parts of our pasts.

I loved reading about Jackie as a book editor and seeing how she herself struggled to fit in and just live a normal life after being the most famous woman on the world and a former first lady. Even James himself is smitten with her at first and not sure how to react.

We learn what James has an odd relationship with his mother and that he explores it in his book. When Jackie encourages him to dig deeper to find the real ending to his fictional book, he has to face some demons of the past within his family. “The Editor” is both a love letter to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and a story about the bond between mother and son. Rowley is a fine writer especially of descriptive text and dialogue. So, when do we see the movie?

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