As Barbra Streisand sang so beautifully “People/ People who need…people/ Are the luc–.” Well there’s no need to recite (or in my case, sing) the whole verse. You know what I’m getting at. We need each other. And sometimes we need someone to just give us a chance. An opportunity to reveal our true potential. A shot at living out our dreams. James Smale, a New York City writer, is about to receive his chance. An editor for a distinguished publishing company has taken an interest in his latest manuscript, a work of fiction which draws heavily from James’s real life upbringing. A meeting between the writer and editor is scheduled. As James sits alone in a conference room awaiting the arrival of the editor, his mind races, perseverating on the many ways in which this life-changing encounter may play out. But when the editor enters the room and introduces herself, James realizes nothing could’ve fully prepared him for this. His editor is Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Set in the 1990s, The Editor captures New York City in a time when the Twin Towers stood formidably, cell phones had not yet wreaked havoc on our attention spans, and a former first lady, in the latter stages of life, has found fulfillment as a working woman. Steven Rowley provides a window into the intimate relationship between a writer and their editor. In some ways, it resembles a parent-child relationship. The writer (child) has a voice. Something they want to say. A message they want to relay in their writing. But they may be struggling to get the message across; finding it difficult to reach their truth. So, the editor (parent) steps in, to draw the writer out, to guide them in their storytelling. Always keeping their writer honest. After James’s initial shock, his relationship with Jacqueline Onassis grows as they work together to revise his manuscript. Although they engage with each other at a certain remove, their professional relationship is one of mutual respect and warm regard. This warmth is contrasted by the more fraught interactions that James has with his mother, a woman struggling with the fact that her son has written a book that only thinly veils her family’s reality. What presents as a golden opportunity for James, is viewed as betrayal by his mother. The tension in their relationship is what drives this story.
The Editor is a funny book. James’s social faux-pas and insecurities provide many giggle worthy moments. Although, I’m sure if Jackie O. were my editor, my behavior would be awkwardly comical as well. James’s family drama is where the story takes on a more serious (often painful) tone. Any family drama worth its snuff is built on secrets and lies. And in this case, the secrets and lies are HUGE. And they are revealed at the worst yet most predictable moment: Thanksgiving dinner. But instead going into the darkest of dark places, Rowley creates a story that speaks to our more generous natures. One might perceive it as a call to be more mindful, reserve judgement, deliberate, communicate, empathize. The shades of gray are abundant. We must recognize and acknowledge them. Or, at least, that’s what I got out of it.
That last bit of commentary may feel a little too philosophical for a book I’m sure most would put on their summer, sitting by the pool/beach, reading list. But, it is what it is.