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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
(4.5 stars) Casting a satiric eye on the publishing business, author Elise Blackwell shows the agonies and excitements of several young authors as each tries to find the magic formula for getting a book published, publicized, and sold to the public. Most have been successful with a first novel--at least to the extent that it has been published--and all now have second novels which they are trying to "place" with a publisher. Trying to support themselves with contributions to small literary journals while looking for the "right" connection for their next novel, they must negotiate literary minefields filled with agents, editors, publicists, manuscript "fixers," and influential bookstore chains, all of which affect their sense of mission and, ultimately, their self-worth.

Following Jackson Miller, Eddie Renfros and his wife Amanda, and Henry Baffler, all long-time friends, the novel also includes their lovers--writers all, though some of them write secretly. As they share their successes and failures, the writers' attitudes toward writing and their craft become obvious. Jackson has decided on the "commercial" route, stating that "If I had it in me, I'd write the trashiest of trashy novels...I'd sign my name proudly." Eddie Renfros wants to be true to his craft, having written a "literary" novel in which "there's a plane crash, death, adultery, bribery, surgery on a child's ear, a world premiere, a drunken cellist, and a beautiful shameless slut of a violin player."

Eddie's wife Amanda, tired of supporting her husband, soon begins to write secretly herself--under two names. "Clarice Aames" is the author of popular short stories which quickly find an audience in journals, while "Amanda Yule" (her maiden name) is working on a pop novel, "not too weird, historical, pretty, and--this was key--full of sexual possibility." Henry Baffler, a believer in the New Realism, which he has not completely defined, has written a plotless book. "If it's a book you really want to write," he asks, "does it matter if anyone wants to read it?"

As the reader becomes engaged in following the various characters and the wonderful cast of supporting characters, Blackwell vibrantly (and mordantly) depicts the inherent conflicts between artistic success and commercial viability. Her characters are not fully developed, since her intention is to show them primarily as writers, and her depiction of their lives shows the artistic commitment of some, the naivete of others, and the crass commercialism of still others.

Though Blackwell has based this novel on George Gissing's 1891 novel New Grub Street, her lively prose, contemporary characters, and modern conflicts show how little life has changed for the writer. Delightful, thought-provoking, and full of rapier-sharp insights into the tenuous connections between writing and publishing, the novel is assured, perceptive, and often hilarious. The glimpses Blackwell provides of the strange, literary world she inhabits are unforgettable. n Mary Whipple
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on July 22, 2008
I really enjoyed this book. I often find it confusing to read novels with multiple POVs, but Blackwell did a marvelous job of juggling the many perspectives. After reading one too many awful novels, I'd lost interest in fiction. This was the first novel I'd read in months, and I just ate it up! Even though I know very little about the world of publishing, I still found the characters hilarious and honest.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2008
This is definitely a book that deserves to have attracted more attention than it did--an example of the vagaries of the publishing world that the novel itself skewers. (And I can't help but wonder if the subject matter and point of view may have made the manuscript unappealing to the larger publishers.) Blackwell pokes fun at not only agents and publishers but also writers themselves--from those who coolly appraise what sells to those who pride themselves on not caring--but she's never mean-spirited. You can't help but have some sympathy for the aspiring writers she portrays, even the ones who are motivated by crass considerations--at least they're honest with themselves. While the book may strike a little close to home for anyone who's ever tried to get a novel published, it's a wonderfully done comic novel with a point to make.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2008
A great find and well worth picking up. Reading this book was like hanging out with a whole new group of friends, and the insights on the writer's world were spot-on. An engaging and delightful read, all the more so because it is written with such compassionate intelligence.
Highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 2, 2007
I'm not familiar with the inspiration for Elise Blackwell's new novel, Grub, which is New Grub Street by British author George Gissing and originally published in 1891 (ironically is being re-published later this month by Broadview Press). I don't have to as Grub stands on its own.

Blackwell's story is about writers, writing, the publishing world, and the choices writers have to make. I felt like she had been sitting in the background at my writer's group and merely changed the names and location to protect the innocent. The broader theme has less to do with writing than the new bottom line of literature. It doesn't matter what the writing is, as long as it sells. And trust-that is the bottom line.

Grub begins at a writer's conference and follows three-really four-aspiring writers over the next few years and ends at same said conference. The frame works well and gives the story a completeness.

Jackson Miller and Eddie and Amanda Renfros are all graduates of the prestigious Iowa Writer's Workshop. Best friends Jackson and Eddie befriend the eccentric but lovable Henry Baffler, who is obsessed with his new literary theory, New Realism.

Jackson is the one who will write whatever the market wants as long as it makes him rich and famous. Eddie struggles with his sophomore novel. His first novel was a critical and financial success, but the money is about to run out. His theory is that the plot will unfold after writing several hundred paragraphs that are ultimately discarded.

Trouble is, Eddie spends too much time drinking and worrying that Amanda won't return his love if he doesn't write another best seller-and not enough time planting rear to chair. When he does start to write, it's too little too late as Amanda as picked up her neglected writing ambitions and has become hot on two different levels. One as the reclusive and unknown Clarice Aames, who bursts onto the literary scene in a spectacular force. The other as herself. She and Jackson have books released within weeks of each other. Their literary success also fuels a romantic fire that has been smoldering since their graduate days in Iowa. Grub is the ultimate insider's view of literary and publishing world, for all its up and downs. If you want to know what it's like to be a writer, Grub will give you the closest answer available without having to experience it.

Armchair Interviews says: This book really gets under the skin of writers.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on December 10, 2007
Elise Blackwell must have had a lot of fun writing this book. I think all writers should pick this up and give it a read because you will find yourself in there. There may be no character who is 100% like you but I found a little piece of myself in Margot for example. She made me smile.

Not only is this about writing, but it is also a good read. For an example of the strong writing from page 51, "He wondered what they had left, if he couldn't even wound her anymore."

There is are some cliches and predictable moments but I can accept that in a book that is otherwise so engrossing and so true to the world of writers. Great, quick read :)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2008
Really enjoyed this book. Loved the pace created by short chapters in alternating points of view, the silly but realistic predicaments the characters find themselves in, and most of all, the author's keen sense of humor and sharp observations about today's literary pop culture.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2014
I found Grub to be OK. The characters are interesting and can draw you in, but the story plays out predictably.

I sped up to finish the book, as it just got a bit repetitive. I suspect that writers would feel a kinship with the woes of publishing - to write for the muse, or to write for money, etc. But that gets old to read about, I think, for those of us that don't aspire to be authors.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 31, 2007
Grub is a great deal of fun, reminding the reader that much of the "business" of writing takes place away from the keyboard, over a cocktail. I very much enjoyed the characters, caricatures and discussions of "process" in the book - it was eminently readable and at times a page turner. Things were summed up neatly in the end (perhaps a little too much so) even if everyone doesn't get a happy ending, but that feels like a nod to the original or perhaps a function of the satire itself. An unexpected treat!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 8, 2014
This was a wonderfully fun discovery...I did not know this author, but the description was intriguing, so I took a chance. I thoroughly enjoyed the conceit of "updating" a hundred-year old story to contemporary times, and it was done masterfully. The characters and setting were very well drawn, the plotting clever and surprising, the ending satisfying. I'm involved in the literary world, and so found it held a bit of "inside" intrigue and angst that I've experience, which added to the fun. And what a kick it was, after finishing this book and reading about her more recent novels that one of them is the very story that a character in GRUB is writing a story about. A well-deserved five stars.
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