Friday, April 8, 2016

Anything For Success: Three Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

"Three Martini Lunch does for publishing what Mad Men did for advertising," wrote James Magnuson. So of course I requested the ARC from NetGalley! The author's previous novel The Other Typist had good reviews and is slated to be a movie. 

"Nobody ever became a writer by just wanting to be one," wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald to his daughter Scottie. With this quote Rindell set the novel's theme. 

Told in first person by the three main protagonists, the book starts with Cliff talking about Greenwich Village in 1958. Cliff channels Holden Caulfield (The Cather in the Rye by J. D. Salinger) with his crummy, lousy, swell slang and direct address to the reader. I was charmed by this voice. Cliff has big dreams and little self control, enjoying the Village life style and ambiance, hanging with 'wannabes" and feeling superior to his Columbia buddies. When Cliff meets man of the world Swish, a bicycle courier along with Harlem native and Columbia student Miles, he thinks he has found his true peer group. He tells the Old Man, an important editor and 'king of the three-martini lunch', that he is dropping out of college to write. No problem. The Old Man cuts off funds and Cliff finds himself sleeping on Swish's couch. 

Cliff has dreams of being a writer, but Miles is actually writing. As a black man with an education his prospects in 1958 are limited. From the start, when Cliff reads what Miles writes he rewrites it his way with the 'right' endings. He is jealous. 

The second voice is Eden, a Midwest girl with dreams of becoming an editor. Eden faces blocks and walls, men and women who take credit for her work and tell her a woman has no place beyond the secretarial pool. After losing a job she tries again, remaking herself with a new look and identity. Eden's story becomes entwined with Cliff's and they appear to be the main characters. But really, they are only the instruments of fate to the real center of the novel--Miles.

Miles is conflicted and searching, intelligent and insecure. His journey takes him from Harlem and the Village to the West Coast in search for his father's lost journal. Yes, it is a search for the father. Along the way he faces decisions about sexual identity and family commitments. The elderly, lonely man who hires him to do odd chores warns him about the pitfalls of denial. 

As the novel progresses we see Cliff is a sham and a loser. Eden hitches to falling stars until she finds her own inner strength and a mentor. Miles betrays all his lovers, and himself. We see a world in which people will do anything to succeed. 

For a 500+ page novel it was fast reading. Rindell has a lovely facility with words and her character's voices showed their unique identity. 

I don't begrudge spending three days with this story. But I am troubled by several things. First, starting the novel with Cliff's story made me think he was the book's main character, especially as we learn he and Eden become involved. Their story takes up a lot of space early in the book. We learn about Cliff's father's betrayal and why Cliff never really had his love. 

Second, Mile's sexual identity and relationships take up a large part of his story, more than his writing interest. The forces that batter Miles and how he buckles under societal pressures in 1958 shape the betrayal that is the most horrific in the novel. The portrayal of the gay characters did make me uncomfortable since none were healthy, whole individuals--Probable, given the times, but unsettling.

Last of all, when at the end of the book twenty years have passed and Miles is asked to write about the 50s Village scene I realized it was THAT BOOK, the one Miles is asked to write, that I really wanted to read! 

Looking back I feel there were too many stories for one book. I would have liked a tighter focus and a tighter book. Or several books, as the characters are all really interesting ones.


I received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Three Martini Lunch
Suzanne Rindell
Penguin
Publication Date April 5, 2016
$27.00 hard cover
ISBN:9780399165481