The Editor by Steven Rowley (Literary Fiction)

An incredibly touching novel about motherhood, life, and forgiveness. Masterfully crafted, the plot weaves together author James Smale’s effort to publish his first novel and his own personal growth through the process. The surprise yoda-like catalyst for this — wait for it — is his editor: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. I admit to fearing the book would be a fictionalized history of Jackie and her glamorous life; however it was anything but. This book celebrates Jackie’s work as an editor, and while James is the main character, Jackie provides the stimulus, advice, and motivation to make his work great.

As The Editor winds through the editing process of James’ Ithaka — a loosely fictionalized story about James and his mother — the interplay between author and editor, fiction and life is brilliantly done. With clear, concise, and humorous writing, carefully crafted sentences, and excellent, in-depth characters, it was a real pleasure to read.

As an interesting aside in these virus-infested times — while we don’t get treated to any excerpts from Ithaka, we do know that the action occurs during a 40-day quarantine (!) that forces mother and son to confront all of their issues. So perhaps we can look forward to some valuable personal and relationship insights from our own shelter-in-place experiences 🙂

Some Quotes:
“To me, typing was akin to publishing. I lived for that typewriter, and I would agonize when the ribbon became twisted, or the keys stuck, and I needed my mother’s assistance. She didn’t prioritize typewriter repair the same way I did.”

“When we exhausted all possible topics of conversation, I dropped my news like I was carpet-bombing Baghdad in Desert Storm.”

“Is the mark of adulthood putting others first? Or is it standing behind your own vision, your own work, your own view of the world? Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I have to wipe my brow.”

“To find something in a manuscript that you recognize as familiar truth, but also as wisdom you’re hearing voiced in a new and articulate way.”

About sausade: “It’s like a nostalgia or melancholy, but more than that. With a recognition that the something we’re longing for hasn’t happened, or isn’t returning. Or maybe never was.”

“Women like your mother and me, from our generation, we were duty bound. Things were expected of us, marriage and motherhood. But we were girls once, with dreams and aspirations of our own. When we see our children succeed, of course part of their accomplishments are our own. But it also reminds us that life doesn’t turn out for everyone the way they dreamed.”

“Jackie has lived most of her adult life in the long romantic shadow cast by history. What must it be like to have a whole nation idealize a past that you know firsthand was painfully imperfect?”

Thank you to Penguin Group Putnam and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on June 30th, 2020.

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