Grub by Elise Blackwell is perfect lunchtime reading. The chapters are short allowing one to read several during a lunch break instead of getting stuck in the middle of a long chapter. The chapters also alternate between characters which allows for a little suspense as well as change of scene. The book is also a nice blend of smart but not taxing so you can both read and concentrate on eating and digesting without any problems. And best of all, the book is entertaining.
The story is an update of George Gissing’s New Grub Street and follows a handful of writers and their trials and travails as they write or don’t write, get published and rejected, live in proud poverty or flamboyant expense. There is Eddie who published a critically acclaimed novel and now can’t seem to write the second one. Or rather, he wrote the second one but no one wants to publish it because it has zero plot. Eddie is married to Amanda who set her sites on him as they were graduating from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop together. But Amanda didn’t want Eddie for himself, she wanted him because he was going to be a famous writer. Now that his star is falling she takes up her own pen to try and write their way out of debt.
No book of this sort is complete without a threesome and Jackson, who graduated from Iowa with Amanda and Eddie, fills the bill. He decides to throw all literary pretensions to the wind and write a book for a mass audience in order to make as much money as he can. Of course, Amanda finds herself wondering why she married Eddie.
There’s also Henry who starves for his art. And there’s Margot who “accidentally” finds herself writing a novel. Then there is Whelpdale, the man who makes a living writing books and giving seminars to writers on how to publish their fiction who himself has never published any fiction. And what would the book be without dueling critics? Andrew Yarborough, old school Harold Bloom type versus Chuck Fadge, postmodern, cutting edge, irony is the thing. Their battles could have come right out of the literary papers. And of course, every writer who is any writer lives in New York City.
Grub is written in a light, easy style that pokes fun at writers and the literary community in general. Here’s a sample passage that tickled my funnybone:
Eddie scratched the stubble on his cheeks. “I should have lived a quiet life, working some day job and married to some unambitious girl who’d never even been to New York. But I made the mistake so many of us make. We think we’re writers and so we have to live in New York. The art, the libraries, the concerts, the museums, the plays. The truth is that I never go anywhere but the bar. Hell, I might as well live in Idaho or somewhere. I mean if I wrote specifically about New York, it might matter. Otherwise it’s a disaster. Writers come here to be degraded or to perish. It would make a lot more sense to live somewhere remote if you want to write.”
Henry nodded. “And somewhere cheaper.”
“We should go be expatriate writers somewhere.”
“No, a real other country.”
Ha! I suppose to folk from the left or right coasts the Midwest might seen like another country, but not a “real” country. I’m allowed to laugh and smirk at this since I grew up in California and now live in the Midwest.
The book does get a bit slow at times and on occasion I got tired of all the complaining about agents and publisher rejections. But overall it was a fun read, one bookish folk are sure to find amusing. I can’t say whether you writers out there might like it or not, depends on how sensitive you are. Some parts might hit a little too close to home.