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Bandbox: A Novel Hardcover – January 6, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (January 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375421165
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421167
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,110,887 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What dizzy fun! Thomas Mallon takes his usual historic care with a period, but lets the 1920s fizz and roar with humor and spot-on observations. Bandbox (as in "he looks just like he stepped out of a . . .") is a fashion magazine for men. Only recently B'box, as the press calls it, was a fading rag for the lavender crowd, but then editor Jehosephat Harris (known as Joe or 'Phat) added top fiction, adventure, crime writing and romantic tips for single men and this new style mag has turned the New York magazine scene on its ear. Joe Harris was at the top of the world until his second-in-command was lured away by Conde Nast to start rival men's magazine Cutaway. Jimmy Gordon is now trying anything he can to ruin Bandbox, and it looks like he's doing a good job.
The Bandbox staff is a combination of the ambitious (who may be spying for Gordon), the disillusioned, the creative, the artistic, and those on the wagon, and those off the wagon. The women on staff, reveling in the opportunities the new decade has offered them, are probably the most competent, but even they are as wacky as all get out There's a lot of drinking, making payoffs to cops, avoiding gangsters, writing snappy prose, and trading quips. Bandbox must be saved, but with every strategy backfiring in their faces, it looks as though our beloved staffers may be seeking jobs at places like Catholic World before long.
Mallon builds plenty of momentum and enough suspense to keep you guessing at the fate of the magazine and its dedicated staff up until the very end. The unforced dialogue has the true ring of the 20's and is fun to follow. The female characters especially are believable and fun, filled with the heady excitement from the new freedom women enjoyed after the first World War.
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Format: Hardcover
Bandbox is one of those novels that reinforces my belief that I was born about 50 years too late. It captures the New York of the Roaring 20's and the helter skelter world of magazine publishing in a way that is both funny and engrossing. Thomas Mallon may not be writing on a par with Fitzgerald or others original to the period (who can?) but he is definitely at the top of his game and it's no shame to be the Triple-A champ.
The plot fits into several genre, the most prominent being a madcap screwball and the other being somewhat of a minor mystery - will the competition succeed in shutting down Bandbox? Mallon makes deft use of every character, even though there are easily more than a dozen to keep track of, and each fits very, very neatly into the plot. That's incredibly hard to pull off and if the book wobbles a little bit in some sections, it makes up for it in others.
Mallon captures the romance of the city and the era vividly, from the socio-political events to the popular culture to the love affair that writers had and continue to have with New York. Even though we know via history's events what's coming around the corner for these characters, we care about them enough to want them to avoid the hard times and root for them against the "bad guys".
Jehosaphat "Joe" Harris is the editor of Bandbox and he seems like a combination of Harvey Weinstein and Boss Tweed. He's fighting to save his magazine from the upstart Cutaway, edited by his onetime protege Jimmy Gordon. Jimmy, who will stop at nothing to bury Bandbox, appears to have the upper hand. The suspense as to who will emerge victorious is an excellent attention-grabber as situations and circumstances get more and more out of control.
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Format: Hardcover
Thomas Mallon's new novel begins with an epigrammatic definition of its title: Referring neither to music nor to boxing, a bandbox is, he quotes Webster's, "a neat box of pasteboard or thin wood, usually cylindrical, for holding light articles of attire." It's just the sort of ephemeral arcane that Mallon, as one of our most imaginative and inventive historical novelists, specializes in. With books like HENRY AND CLARA and DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, set respectively in the 1940s and the 1860s, he not only immerses the reader in a precisely rendered version of a long-vanished era --- of which details like the term "bandbox" are the essential building blocks --- he also tells these complex stories with a dramatic flourish seemingly defined by that particular time and place.
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.
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