The Editor by Steven Rowley
Published by Putnam
Publication date: April 2, 2019
James Smale is thrilled to sell his first novel to Doubleday, but he is over-the-moon when he finds out his editor is none other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. His excitement is tempered by having to tell his mother. As an obsessive Kennedy family follower, her son meeting Jackie would normally be a dream come true, but she’s read a chapter and while it’s fiction it’s about James’ highly dysfunctional childhood. Not how she wants to be seen by her idol. In The Editor, his fears over his mother’s reaction, combined with being star struck, leaves James so creatively blocked he can’t write an ending for his book.
The premise of getting validation as a writer and then finding out a woman of Jackie’s stature is your editor makes for exactly the kind of fun you might expect. James goes from being so overwhelmed he can hardly speak, to staying at Jackie’s place on Martha’s Vineyard and lunching with her at the Carlyle Hotel. Thankfully, Rowley avoids too much lighthearted silliness by delving into the issues with James’s novel and therefore, his life and his fraught relationship with his mother. Also, through James’s erstwhile boyfriend, he adds the ever-useful dynamic of one partner suddenly succeeding artistically while the other is still struggling.
All of this works until about halfway through, when Rowley decides to spice things up further with some of the downsides of fame and when that’s not enough, by dropping a family bombshell. Followed by another dramatic scene towards the end of the novel. All of which meant that, for me, the novel strayed too far from wry humor and the complexity of the mother/gay son dynamic into a lot of tropes. The only part of the novel that held from start to finish were the scenes with Jackie. Even though I have no idea what she was like in her private life Rowley lets her unfold on the page in her interactions with James. There is still the reserve that comes from decades of intense scrutiny but there is a wistfulness as well. More scenes like this and less of everything else would have made a big difference in my take on The Editor. As is, I was left feeling that the novel itself needed an editor.