Review: The Editor by Steven Rowley

The Editor Book Cover The Editor [2019] – ★★1/2

In this story by Steven Rowley, author of the debut novel Lily and the Octopus [2016], a struggling writer James Smale lands a book deal, and his editor ends up being no other than Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, yes, the former First Lady of the United States. For James, it is like a dream-come-true situation, and, as he deepens his friendship with his famous editor, he realised he has to confront the painful issues surrounding the reason why he began writing his novel The Quarantine in the first place. Ms Kennedy Onassis wants James to open up about his mother and surprising family secrets emerge. The Editor, which is set in 1990s New York City, is quirky and humorous, but it is also a self-indulgent and pretentious book which suffers from a dull, predictable and melodramatic plot.

I picked up The Editor because I thought the premise sounded unusual, and I am always on a lookout for books with strange or unusual scenarios and characters. Rowley’s second book does have a refreshingly different premise: a writer lands a book deal with a publishing company which also employs Jacqueline Kennedy as an editor. Everyone knows Jacqueline Kennedy, but it will be intriguing to read about this fictionalised version of events where we, through James, get to know the Former First Lady personally too. Rowley also attempts to make his story funny and whimsical, and there are such themes as the exploration of a mother-son relationship and using a book-writing exercise as therapy, attempting to know “truth” through fiction.

However, unfortunately, The Editor is not as exciting a book as the enigmatic personality of the Former First Lady. James is a writer living with his boyfriend Daniel and being star-struck by Jacqueline. She invited James to her home and their editor-writer relationship flourishes. James also has a complex with his mother, and James’s book attempts to explore his mother’s personality. There are definitely parallels drawn between James’s mother and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. All this would have been interesting if it were not also presented so boringly, predictably and melodramatically. The secret coming out at the end of the book could be guessed half-way through the book, and the author’s attempt to make his story meaningful and profound backfires – he and his book end up appearing simply pretentious. Nearly everyone knows the riddle of the Sphinx – “what walks on four hands in the morning, two at noon and three at night?”[Rowley, 2019: 233], but Rowley thinks including it in his book will make the book cleverer. He also makes references to other such “intelligent” phrases, for example, mentioning the Latin phrase “in vino veritas” [2019: 166], as well as French food, to make his writing “cooler” and worldly. The book is trying too hard, and Steven Rowley is also trying to appease to his readers by making pop culture references, mentioning Hitchcock’s film Psycho and Amityville Horror for desired effect.

Even though The Editor is perfectly readable with manageable, small chapters, it is also filled with cliché sayings such as “I have the urge to cry because it’s clear to me now that the most beautiful things in life are also the most fragile” [Rowley, 2019: 94], as though we have not read a similar phrase in a hundred or so other books. The author does, though, play with preposterous situations to amusing results – his character says at one point – “I start to protest – I can’t have the former First Lady of the United States fetch me a glass of water – but she’s already gone” [Rowley, 2019: 13].

If it were not for the appeal of Ms Kennedy Onassis in the book, as well as for the curious friendship developing between her and the main character, the story would have been disastrously stale. As there is Ms Kennedy Onassis in the story, the book is only boring, melodramatic and predictable, but not disastrously so. Despite quirkiness and humour, sadly, The Editor ends up being nothing special at all.


6 thoughts on “Review: The Editor by Steven Rowley

    1. Thank you for agreeing! It is always a bit hard voicing unpopular opinion, and yes, exactly – I believe if you eliminate Ms Kennedy from this book, what do you end up with? The most mundane and boring plot imaginable.

      Liked by 1 person

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