‘Back in those days My Old Man was king of what they called the three-martini lunch. This meant that in dimly lit steakhouses all over Manhattan my father made bold, impetuous deals over gin and oysters. That was how it was done.’
Cliff Nelson, the privileged son of a New York publishing house editor, is slumming it around Greenwich village in 1958, enjoying the booze, drugs and the idea that he’s the next Kerouac.
Fresh-faced Eden Katz arrives in New York with the ultimate ambition to become an editor, but she’s shocked at the stumbling blocks she encounters.
Miles Tillman, a black publishing house messenger boy, is an aspiring writer who feels he straddles various worlds and belongs to none.
Their choices, concealments and betrayals ripple outwards leaving none of them unchanged.
What I Thought:
In the original press information, Three Martini Lunch was described as ‘Mad Men for the publishing world’ and certainly that description stands up as Suzanne Rindell vividly describes 1950s New York, a time when sharp-suited men ruled publishing and as many deals were done at the lunch table as over the office desk.
To this face-paced and drink-fuelled backdrop are set three young people hoping to make their mark on the world – two of them are held back by their gender and race, the other purely by his complete lack of talent and huge ego. As we follow each character, their stories intersect meaning that we hear from each of their points of view what they are going through, but also get their perspectives on each other.
This book has a lot to say about race and the place of women in a white, male dominated time and industry and, even in Greenwich Village – the supposed liberal heart of 1950s New York – there are social and sexual taboos that hum under the surface of parties, poetry and rundown apartments. Each of the characters has a challenge to face – Eden’s ambition to become an editor suffers on two fronts – the fact that she’s a woman and the fact that she’s a Jew, while Marcus is all but written off because he is black, but also struggles with the fact that he is gay – at the time, still a crime. Only Cliff’s struggle is self-made as he fights against the feeling that he could really be great if someone gave him a break…
As I said, the descriptions of the Village and New York really bring the environment alive and the Mad Men comparison is really quite valid. My one minor niggle with the book is that it starts to lag in the middle section – it takes a little while to get going again, but once it does, it is compulsive reading and Marcus’s story is particularly heartbreaking.
Please note: I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. All opinions are, as ever, my own.