would you do to realize your dream of being a successful author or
editor? Are there any limits? In the postwar years in New York City, two
young men and one woman learn the answers to those questions:
Cliff: Greenwich Village in '58 was a madman's paradise. In those days a bunch of us went around together drinking too much coffee and smoking too much cannabis and talking all the time about poetry and Nietzsche and bebop. I had been running around with the same guys I knew from Columbia—give or take a colored jazz musician here or a benny addict there—and together we would get good and stoned and ride the subway down to Washington Square. I guess you could say I liked my Columbia buddies all right. They were swell enough guys but when you really got down to it they were a pack of poser wannabe-poets in tweed and I knew it was only a matter of time before I outgrew them.—Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell (Putnam, 2016, chap. 1; uncorrected proofs)
- Setting: late 1950s/early 1960s New York City
- Circumstances: Cliff, Miles, and Eden, all just out of college, have dreams of making it in the publishing world. Cliff and Miles want to be writers, and Eden wants to be an editor. Each, however, has to overcome sociocultural expectations and to find a way around a variety of roadblocks. At the same time, they're faced with moral and ethical dilemmas and make choices they have to live with forever.
- Characters: Cliff, the privileged son of an important editor; Miles, a Harlem native who managed to obtain a good education; Eden, a Midwestern girl trying to make it in the city; various friends and enemies in the Village and in publishing
- Themes: friendship, sociocultural issues (religion, race, sexual identity, gender, social class), moral choices, love, father-son relationships, marriage, ambition
- Genre: literary fiction
- General Thoughts: Because I'm an editor, I was immediately hooked on the publishing theme. I loved the period details concerning Eden's struggles as a woman and as a Jew in the business. Cliff's personality made me want to strangle him--what a spoiled brat! And poor Miles, such a good guy with so much to deal with: being black was only the beginning.
- Thoughts on the Plot: The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the three main characters, and I always enjoy seeing different reactions to the same set of events and people. I can't say I especially liked any of the trio, but their sometimes cringe-worthy thoughts and actions made the book interesting.
- Note on diversity: Bravo to Rindell for creating a Jewish character who seemed real and relatable. Eden's Jewishness has a part to play, but other than that, she's just a regular person. Thank you.
- Recommendations: A terrific snapshot into the pre-civil rights and women's movement era. Rindell's period details of the publishing world and of the social scene in New York give the novel authenticity. The characters have to balance their all-consuming dreams against their personal ethics as well as decide how much of their true self they're willing to share with the world. Whether you agree with their choices or not, you'll have a lot to think about. In fact, Three-Martini Lunch would be a great book club choice.
- Audiobook: The unabridged audiobook edition (Penguin Audio; 16 hr, 52 min) was read by Will Damron, J. D. Jackson, and Rebecca Lowman. There were no weak links in the performances, and each narrator highlighted his or her character's personality well. As a group, the pacing was good and the expressiveness kept my attention without interfering with my own interpretation of events. I also appreciated that all of the narrators kept any hint of foreshadowing from their performances. Recommended listen.