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Bandbox: A Novel Hardcover – January 6, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
A new, gleeful exuberance infuses Mallon's latest novel, in which he turns his talent for fastidious historical detail (Dewey Defeats Truman, etc.) to the elaboration of a comedy of errors set in Manhattan during the 1920s. Bandbox is the name of a successful monthly magazine for men, the first and best of its kind until the recent defection of its star editor, Jimmy Gordon, to establish the rival Cutaway. The narrative centers on the cutthroat competition between the two magazines, a suspenseful battle in which two Bandbox editors secretly defect to the other magazine, providing inside information that allows Jimmy to scoop his old boss and win the ratings game. The narrative is a tad slow getting started, since Mallon must introduce each name on the masthead and succinctly describe their various duties. All his characters are colorful and fully dimensional, however, especially Bandbox's aging editor-in-chief, Jehoshaphat (variously Joe, or Phat) Harris, who seems closely modeled on the legendary Harold Ross of the New Yorker. In addition to the magazine staff, there's a Hollywood star chosen to be the subject of a cover story. She's a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac called Rosemary La Roche, who trails chaos in her wake. Mallon adroitly establishes the atmosphere of the Jazz Age, dropping such names as Al Jolson, Leopold and Loeb, President Coolidge, George M. Cohan and the crime boss Arnold Rothstein. The latter is a pivotal character, because when his goons kidnap a kid from Indiana who has come to New York because he idolizes Bandbox, the plot acquires the elements of a thriller. Prohibition, police corruption, a court trial, in-house intrigue, the narcotics trade, animal rights, two gentle romances and several surprise revelations propel the plot, not to mention one of the best features Mallon's ability to convey the deadline-obsessed mentality of a monthly magazine. Mallon has never before employed his wit and humor to such good effect; he writes with comic brio, indulging in clever repartee and nimble farce. To quote the closing sentence: "What do we do for an encore?"
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
Mallon's fizzy new novel is set at a men's magazine during the Jazz Age—and a raging newsstand war. The aging but irrepressible Jehoshaphat Harris has made Bandbox into a roaring success, but now his right-hand man has left to start a rival magazine and the future of Harris's venture is in jeopardy. As photo shoots go awry, profile subjects go berserk, and writers go on benders—some things don't change—the novel, like its main character, never lets the energy flag. Mallon, in his other books, has gravitated toward previous eras out of an affinity for something like reticence. "Bandbox," then, is a real departure: antic, stylized, and up-tempo. The dialogue has a Kaufman-and-Hart crackle, and the story boasts more lotharios, floozies, mobsters, and wised-up dames than an M-G-M double feature.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
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That said, few books can live up to that estimation, though I feel that this one has. Results vary as to what Preston Sturges means to you.
involved in lifestyles that put it in jeopardy of losing it's
edge and advertising to a rival men's mag called Cutaway.
The characters in Bandox have voices that are are all different and fit perfect
with the varied columns they write ( bachelor column, food,sports)
The story of the rise and survival of the magazine, Bandbox is fun,
well written by the talented Thomas Mallon who captures the flavor
and language of the the 20'era.
With BANDBOX, Mallon tackles the 1920s, and the book's vertiginous velocity, keystone-kop commotions and clever contrivances certainly capture the roar of that decade. The title refers to a men's fashion magazine headed by Jehoshaphat "Joe" Harris, an aging editor who once famously turned the formerly failing rag around in one business quarter. Now he faces crazed competition from his former protégé, Jimmy Gordon, who has jumped ship to Cutaway, a prestigious Condé Nast upstart.
A boisterous brouhaha brews around this bitter brawl between big cheeses as Mallon deploys the entire Bandbox masthead --- from the managing editor all the way down to the lowly fact-checker --- to shadow stories in New York and California, to rake muck on rivals and to try to stay one, no, two steps ahead of the competition.
In Harris's inner circle are Norman Spilkes, the rag's skittish managing editor, and David Fine, the sadsack wine-and-dine columnist with the unlimited expense account. Stuart Newman, the cake eater who writes the bachelor life column and beds all the new girls, is fighting alcohol and his curious attraction to Nan O'Grady, the bug-eyed Betty copy editor. Her assistant, Allen Case, is a real case: he's an ardent animal lover who won't eat meat and resents Gardiner Arinopoulos's use of pythons and koalas in photo shoots with head model Waldo Lindstrom, "an omnisexual cocaine addict" with a hushed-up criminal record.
At least Nan doesn't work in the fact-checking department with Chip Brzezinski, a real Palooka who's hoping to secure a place on the Cutaway masthead by spying for Jimmy Gordon. But he's loyal to his boss, the Countess Daisy DiDonna, a social butterfly who's looking to settle down with the right man --- "right" meaning one who has money, prestige and power.
Covering the lowly vaudeville circuit is Aloysius "Cuddles" Houlihan, a veritable cautionary tale against burnout. He used to be a real up-and-comer, but he's all washed up these days. The only thing he can muster now is a pathetically moony look at his secretary, a choice piece of calico named Becky Walter, who craves the frenzied life of real writers but is held back by a wet-blanket boyfriend studying Scottish Chaucerians.
It's a considerably colossal cast of characters, but as they scheme and scam to save their jobs, Mallon juggles them all with vaudevillian aplomb. They play off each other dynamically, moving the plot half by their own wayward motivations and half by sheer happenstance: miscues, misunderstandings, miscalculations, miscommunications, misleads and misdeeds.
In fact, BANDBOX is often so much fun to read that it feels frothy and frivolous. This tone, however, is more a nod to the hubbub of Prohibition-era New York; this tonic has a strong bite. Mallon slyly suggests that the titular magazine is a fictional precursor to present-day lad mags like Maxim, Stuff and FHM that explode with scantily clad starlets and salacious sex columns. This implication is revealing: our cravings for love and sex, glamour and adoration, power and prestige, drugs and alcohol --- among so many other vices --- are nothing new, but rather conditions of simply being human. In this and many other ways, Mallon fashions the past to comment subtly but meaningfully on the present and, as with his previous novels, he does so with style and flair to spare.
--- Reviewed by Stephen M. Deusner
For starters, there are too many characters, and they just aren't differentiated enough. I was never able to tell Betty and Becky apart. Add Daisy, and I just couldn't tell who was who among the female characters. There are a lot more male characters, so it was even harder to tell them apart. People drink. People backstab. People slack. A vegan tries to help animals. A Mid-West guy comes to Manhattan to make it big in the world. A mobster has a judge in his back pocket. These people just don't do interesting things. Sometimes, celebrities pass by. Vaudeville is dying. Sound is coming to movies. Famous names are dropped like snowflakes in a blizzard. This didn't even have the depth of a cartoon. A trip to Hollywood didn't help. The author should have deleted half of his characters and made the remaining ones more memorable.