Review: The Editor by Steven Rowley

by Heather Caliendo

Editorial note: I received a copy of The Editor in exchange for a review. 

The Editor by Steven Rowley is equal parts heartwarming and hilarious. It’s an absolute delight!

I’ve been looking forward to The Editor for quite some time—I love novels that cover the writing process. In this case, the story follows James Smale, a writer who finally sold his novel to an editor at a major publishing house. When he goes to meet his new editor, he’s terrified and ecstatic. Little did he know his editor is actually one of the most famous women in the world: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. And she loves his autobiographical novel.

But when the book’s forthcoming publication threatens to unravel already fragile relationships, both within his family and with Daniel, his partner, James finds that he can’t bring himself to finish the manuscript.

Jackie and James develop an unexpected friendship, and she encourages him to head home to confront the truth about his relationship with his mother. James then finds out much more about his family and himself.

Engaging narrative

The story is told in the first-person present perspective of James. Let me just say that I loved James. He’s both intentionally and unintentionally hilarious, observant but not without flaws. The way Steven wrote James—he felt like such a real character. It’s almost like he’s a friend you’ve known for years and even when he messes up, you’re always rooting for him to succeed.

I personally really enjoy the first-person present storytelling structure because the reader experiences the action as the protagonist does. It’s a captivating style that makes the story much more immediate and fresh.

It’s quite difficult to convey humor in fiction. And it’s even harder to make a reader actually laugh out loud. But from the first page on when James is shocked to find out that Jackie is editor, there’s so much great comedy mixed in. But of course, there’s serious topics as well. And the combination is just one reason this story is so compelling and moving.

Mrs. Onassis

After I read the novel, I thought about how we oftentimes frame historical and famous figures from the era they’re most known for, almost as if they’re frozen in time. So to me, I think of Jackie Kennedy Onassis as the first lady—and we all know the image of her in the pink Chanel suit in Dallas. But she was so much more than all of that. I had no idea that she worked in publishing and it seems that her time working there was some of the happiest of her life. It appears the traditional office setting and being able to actually work—was extremely rewarding for her. I’m eager to learn even about that era of her life. This is another case where I appreciate an author bringing to light a fact that isn’t discussed much.

And I just adored Steven’s portrayal of Jackie—or as she preferred to be called Mrs. Onassis. She’s intelligent, warm and extremely observant. The friendship between James and Jackie is so lovely—she’s his editor, mentor but also an maternal figure in his life. She pushes James to find his ending—which brings him back to his mother. In a sense, she’s almost a fairy godmother to James.

Also, if you’re a fan of the Kennedys, there’s lots of enticing tidbits throughout the novel—including a visit to Jackie’s place in Martha’s Vineyard.

Mothers/sons

While there’s many dazzling details about publishing and Jackie, at the heart of the novel, is about a son yearning to understand and connect with his complicated mother. We find out why James wrote the novel and also explains his reluctance for an honest ending. While we think we know our parents, they don’t always show all of their cards, right? And James learns there’s much about his mother that he didn’t know. His mother seems horrified that not only he wrote a novel about her, but Jackie Kennedy Onassis is the one to edit it—a woman she’s admired for years. She closes herself off even more to James and it’s up to him to break through the barriers and start the healing process. I loved their story arc—sometimes heartbreaking but also quite touching and profound.

It might sound like a cliche, but this one truly made me laugh and cry.

This is a must read, friends!

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