- Hardcover: 272 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (June 2, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385353340
- ISBN-13: 978-0385353342
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 7.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #718,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Muse: A Novel Hardcover – June 2, 2015
"Theft by Finding: Diaries (1977-2002)" by David Sedaris
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“Entertaining . . . The rivalries of the literary world animate this debut novel, which follows Paul Dukach, a rising editor at one of New York’s last independent publishers; his boss, Homer Stern; and Sterling Wainwright, the head of their main competitor. All three are captivated by the same woman, the poet Ida Perkins, who is revered by Paul, pursued by Homer, and published (and occasionally bedded) by Sterling. Paul’s career takes flight when Ida entrusts him with an explosive secret. Muse is a testament to the purity of the written word, and the turmoil that can be required to get it on paper.” —The New Yorker
“Excellent. A valentine to a half-remembered, half-imagined world: a tale of two literary publishers who for decades have jousted with each other for the affections—and copyrights—of one Ida Perkins, a modernist master with the shimmering technique of Marianne Moore, the erotic frankness of Anne Sexton, and the massive readership—well, of no poet who ever lived in the 20th century, but we can dream, can’t we? The fulcrum of the story is a young editor-in-chief whose ongoing obsession with Ida’s life and work that leads him into a chain of events that culminates with a bombshell of a gift: a final manuscript whose contents, once published, will transform all their lives . . . A terrific novel—a crackling good story [in] sparkling prose.” —Kevin Nance, USA Today ***
“Muse is a song of praise for Galassi’s two loves, publishing and poetry . . . He beautifully represents moments of literary triumph: when the poet finds the words coming just right; when the pristine, unexpected manuscript shows up on the editor’s desk; when the publisher sees a masterpiece he has championed become recognized as such. Galassi makes poetry and publishing feel alive, with complexity and drama and feeling.” —Anthony Domestico, Commonweal
“You don’t have to work in publishing to enjoy Muse, a story that draws a lot from the writer’s own experience. In his time at FSG, Galassi ushered some of the most esteemed writers into the literary landscape, including Jonathan Franzen. There are plenty of recognizable characters; Galassi also has a clear love of words and the types of people, both publishers and authors, who are behind them. He’s concerned with the ‘romance of reading,’ and those who ‘were loyal to their own sometimes twisted yet settled natures, modern in the old-fashioned sense.’” —Michele Filgate, Salon
“Galassi's debut novel reads with the exuberance of a man half his age and with intellect of a successful businessman. The trend of writers writing about novelists is nothing new, [but] what separates Galassi is that his vast knowledge and experience provides him with chops to fully encompass the literary world. The novel centers around two publishing houses, a revolutionary poet, and an editor who gets caught in between it all. The job of a novelist is to make a world come alive, and by the end of Muse, many will be Googling Ida Perkins to see if she was a real poet . . . Galassi has a treasure trove of information which he supplies to readers in great, and gorgeous detail. Muse is a novel that displays a love and passion for literature by one of the most decorated members of the industry. Call it a passion project, a memoir of sorts, a love letter to beautiful writing: Galassi has been inspired by his Muse.” —Steven Petite, The Huffington Post
“Fascinating . . . Muse is built around a charming premise: that an important American poet could become as famous as a pop star, a screen siren or an athlete. Here we are in the midst of fantasy, but a fantasy not far, as Galassi’s novel eloquently illustrates, from the one inhabited by people in the literature business. It is one of the pleasures of Muse to watch Galassi mix his fictional literati with the real ones. Among the deepest themes of this book are the entanglements of love, judgment, business, art, narcissism, craft, and the power. The work [Galassi] gives Ida is strikingly charming and direct—inward-looking and meditative. But I suspect that Ida is less a specific person than the idea of what a writer means to those committed to literary life. It’s not just the literary gift—it’s also the impulse to embrace and surrender to it—this magic knot of art and character. Longing for a vanishing métier and its muse forms the novel’s love story, and the love story of the world it affectionately eulogizes.” —Ann Kjellberg, The New York Review of Books
“Compelling . . . Galassi propels his readers forward on a thought-provoking, often hilarious, bittersweet ride. That he manages to keep his literary Uber on the road and out of the ditches is a tribute to his skill as a writer and storyteller. Muse is a kind of mystery: not so much a who-done-it but a more satisfying who-felt-it, who-experienced-it, who-saw-it-for-what-it-really-was . . . It is also a roman à clef, and its pages are populated with characters both real and imagined. Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway are mentioned in the same breath with fictional characters, some based on real legendary lions, such as Roger Straus and James Laughlin. Galassi even tips his hat to some of his contemporary confrères, distributing their last names among his characters. Anyone intimate with New York publishing can use Muse as a kind of parlor game for rainy nights; put out the brie, pour the Chablis, and try to find Lynn, Binky, Mort, Esther, and Sonny hiding in the pages. Yet somehow, Galassi prevents his journey from becoming too sentimental, offering instead top-shelf satire in the portrait he paints of the narcissism and pettiness that still is New York publishing—the jealousy and backstabbing among writers, the faux-intellectual preening and dirt-dishing by the editors, the cravenness and hypocrisy of the publishers. While his characters may do foolish things, they are committed to something much bigger than their egos—Literature with a capital L, enduring works that change opinions, politics, culture, and lives . . .The potential unraveling of Paul’s future makes the need to untangle his past, and Ida’s, all the more immediate and meaningful for the reader. Galassi brings an elegiac quality to the novel’s themes of love, loss, and reading in just the right amount, adding depth and richness to a bravura first novel.” —Robert B. Wallace, Los Angeles Review of Books
“Unusual and beguiling . . . Galassi imbues his offbeat tale with emotional intensity and a lingering resonance.” —Rayyan Al-Shawaf, Miami Herald
“Entertaining . . . Muse’s hero, Paul Dukach, is an ambitious tyro in 21st-century publishing [whose] fascination with his poetic heroine leads him to becomes an acolyte at more than one altar. What he discovers along the way will turn the literary world upside down. But that world is already in turmoil, as the author wittily demonstrates. Galassi knows the territory better than most, since he’s president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux . . . Can a novel that winks so knowingly at a certain group of readers succeed in broader terms? I reckon so. Galassi’s ventriloquism makes for striking verse. And his riffs on fame itself are spot-on; I kept thinking of Being John Malkovich . . . He gives us an alternate world in which we might, really, listen to a poet. [And] he pokes clever fun at the society that Paul and he himself inhabit . . . Paul’s journey is an honest one—into himself and into the truth of what he loves. Muse is many things: a satire of New York’s social world, a portrait of publishing that is both love song and takedown, and an intriguing mystery. But beneath the book’s sometimes brittle surface lies the belief that literature can change lives. Yes, the business of books is changing. But what’s written on the pages remains just as powerful, just as real—and few know that better than Jonathan Galassi.” —Erica Wagner, The New York Times Book Review
“Entertaining, keenly observed, incisive . . . a literary echo chamber haunted by the ghosts of two classics—Philip Roth’s The Ghost Rider and Henry James’s The Aspern Papers. Galassi draws on his own longtime experience to give readers a tactile portrait of the New York literary world in ‘the good old days’ when publishing was a gentlemanly profession, and ‘books were books,’ their contents ‘liquor, perfume, sex and glory to their devotees.’ In Ida [Perkins], Galassi—who is himself an accomplished poet—has created an avatar of a vanished era in which poets could be huge celebrities, and gives us some charming examples of her work . . . Muse—much like John Updike’s early Bech books—leaves insiders with a knowing portrait of the publishing world before the digital revolution, and gives outsiders a gently satirical look at the passions and follies of a vocation peopled by ‘fanatics of the cult of the printed word.’” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“A fictional send-up of New York’s publishing industry, by one of its real-life members. Galassi chronicles the rise of an ambitious young editor [who] must juggle the high-brow pursuits of the literary life with the vulgarity of commercialism. While industry insiders will likely recognize veiled references to key players in publishing, outsiders will giggle at Galassi’s accounts of aggressive agents, arrogant authors and barbaric book fairs.” —Billy Heller, New York Post
“Charming . . . an enjoyably incestuous tangle of life and art, with allusions that branch beyond the insular realm of New York publishing into American literary culture . . . The heroes of Galassi’s first novel are a pair of ‘gentlemanly thieves’—which is another way of saying that they are book publishers in New York. Like his heroes, Galassi, who is an accomplished poet and translator, has spent a lifetime in that sordid and sophisticated world; his novel is a camouflaged depiction of the ‘swarming dunghill’ of publishers, editors, and agents who are the power brokers of the literary elite. While the book is laced with nostalgic affection, its primary ingredient is exuberant gossip . . . The tussle between high art and crude commerce, between publishing as a noble calling and a seamy business, generates much comic posing throughout . . . The model of passionate and egotistical publishers shaping the industry has faded by the novel’s end, but the preceding pages preserve the quirks and charms of a colorful era in literary culture.” —Nick Romeo, The Boston Globe
“Accomplished, entertaining . . . affecting . . . Muse adds still another gold star to Galassi’s literary report card . . . It is a tribute to the world of book publishing in which he came of age and made his mark, [when] the book, not the bottom line, was the focus . . . In wistful words that sometimes read like sadness set to music, Galassi captures all of this collaborative joy and heartache, and more, in a fond farewell to yesteryear—and a guarded hello to the digital age in publishing.” —Robert Lamb, New York Journal of Books
“The first novel from the poet and critic Galassi is a long-awaited, and worthwhile, event. Galassi’s main character is the heir to a prestigious publishing house who becomes the confidante of his favorite writer, a poet whose personal life is as famed as her writing.” —Nicole Jones, Vanity Fair
“Witty . . . delicious. Galassi—a publisher, poet and translator with decades of inside knowledge of the publishing industry—uses his background to great effect in this a slyly sophisticated roman à clef. He slips the fictitious poet Ida Perkins into the 20th century literary canon and puts her at the centre of a literary competition between publishers.” —Jane Ciabattari, BBC.com, Ten Books to Read in June
“Complex and heartbreaking . . . Galassi’s fictionalized vision of publishing, even subtracting the veneer of satire, is simultaneously romantic and problematic, [an] otherworldly amalgam of the real, the satiric and the entirely imagined . . . a Mad Men world that’s white, wealthy and male. Muse traces publishing’s trajectory from a confident, martini-lunching old boys’ club to a more enlightened industry plagued by the uncertainty brought on by a brave new world . . . It is, in some respects, a love letter for a bygone time, [without] the miserliness of that genre. At the heart of everything these people do is a profound love of literature. The novel leaps to life when we [meet] Ida Perkins, a poetry superstar. Muse reads like a memoir of sorts, told, as befits a sophisticated teller, with all the tools at his disposal—satire, a touch of postmodernism, the roman à clef, and naturally, romance.” —Alana Wilcox, National Post (Canada)
“Part satire, part fantasy, and unabashed in its affection for the world of publishing, Farrar, Straus & Giroux president and publisher Galassi's first novel is a captivating roman à clef, written with the insight and wit of a true insider. An accomplished poet, Galassi effectively deploys both his knowledge of that art form and of the business of producing books in this clever story . . . Whether it's a trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair or a dinner with the founder of an Amazon-like e-tailer, Galassi delivers realistic glimpses of pressures that loom over the traditional book business today. Equally pleasurable are his flights of fancy: a world where first editions of poetry books sell 750,000 copies and where the death of a beloved poet spurs the president to declare a national holiday; where literature occupies the center of the cultural conversation, rather than being exiled to the provinces inhabited by academics and a handful of acolytes. For all the wistfulness of its backward-looking glance, Muse is anything but a nostalgia trip. Instead, this gentle, wry novel should reinforce the belief of anyone who loves books that the survival of the world Galassi portrays is worth fighting for. A sharp and affectionate look at the contemporary publishing business.” —Harvey Freedenberg, Shelf Awareness
“Galassi’s first novel, which charts the rivalry between two Manhattan publishing houses, is packed with lively secrets and insider gossip from the world of literature." —Entertainment Weekly
“An insider's look at book publishing spins a fable of egos, literature, and commerce in which an editor’s obsession with a poet leads to the revelation of a crucial secret. Galassi is a poet and translator and, for his day job, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. In this fiction debut, he imagines the gifted and beautiful poet Ida Perkins, cynosure of men literary and otherwise. A critics’ darling from her first collection at 18, she soon [becomes] that rarest of phenomena, a profitable poet. Her fortunate publisher is a WASP from old New England money, and his chief rival is a savvy, foulmouthed Austrian Jew who racks up more Nobels than any other house—except Farrar. The obsessive is Paul Dukach, whose first meeting with Ida brings him and the story to the ultimate collision of private person and published writing. Galassi conveys the thrill of being dazzled by literature . . . He also has fun with the language of reviewing while delivering a casual seminar on American poetry; an extended riff on the Frankfurt Book Fair bespeaks years of painful firsthand experience . . . A worthy psalm on the pre-Amazon, pre-digital days of publishing that anyone might appreciate. Galassi rates praise especially for choosing to have some knowing fun with his years in the business.” —Kirkus (starred review)
“In poet Galassi’s first novel, a book editor navigates the world of 21st-century publishing while unraveling the secrets of his lifelong hero, a poet named Ida Perkins . . . The fun of this book is watching Galassi weave his fictional characters into real literary history and put his considerable gifts as a poet to good use.” —Publishers Weekly
“Charming . . . A novel about a world that exists in memory: an industry still spoken of reverentially as a noble calling rather than a business. Its hero is a bookish young man from upstate New York who is drawn to the down-at-the heels glamour of book publishing. Muse is two parts valentine, one part satire, a loving send-up of a very specific culture. [Here] is a world where intrigue takes the form of a decades-long battle over who gets to publish a charismatic, talented and audacious poet, a writer of sensual poetry with an outsized popular appeal. A reader would not be wrong to see parallels between the characters in the book and industry legends.” —Kara Bloomgarden-Smoke, New York Observer
“A witty, elegant, tons-of-fun debut novel. Jonathan Galassi has got all the dirt on the publishing industry and he is ready to dish. But he also takes us from Union Square and a hideaway country cottage to Venice, for a love story all his own.” —Gary Shteyngart
“We know Galassi as president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, as the author of three collections of poetry, and as an icon in the publishing industry. Now we get to know him as a debut novelist. Not surprisingly, Galassi writes about publishing itself, and it will be fun to match fiction with real-life fact. Paul Dukach is heir apparent at Purcell & Stern, hanging on in seen-better-days offices near Manhattan’s Union Square (much like Farrar’s) as one of the few remaining independents. Right now, he’s after Ida Perkins, a dazzling and culturally significant poet (yes, poetry matters!) whose longtime publisher, also her cousin and sometime lover, is a major rival of Paul’s boss. When Paul seeks out Ida at her Venetian palazzo, he learns a startling secret.” —Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
“Jonathan Galassi has accomplished that most difficult of tasks, which is to write a lively and interesting novel about book publishing, many scenes of which brought back to me vividly what book publishing is (or used to be) like: larger than life figures (at any rate in their own minds), impossible authors, intense rivalry, and daily drama. It will explain to hoi polloi what book publishers do when they’re not lunching, and to those in the industry it will present a fascinating roman-a-clef puzzle to solve.” —Michael Korda, author of Queenie and Another Life
About the Author
JONATHAN GALASSI is a lifelong veteran of the publishing world and the author of three collections of poetry, as well as translations of the Italian poets Eugenio Montale and Giacomo Leopardi. A former Guggenheim Fellow and poetry editor of The Paris Review, he also writes for The New York Review of Books and other publications. He lives in New York City.
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Galassi, a well-regarded poet with several published titles to his credit as both poet and poetry translator, is a veteran of literary publishing. He currently holds the titles of Publisher and President at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and has published many of the leading novelists of our time. But he hadn’t published his own novel before this year, which is what qualifies Muse as his “debut” novel even though he is now in his mid-60s.
This is a poet’s novel, in large part because the ostensible protagonist is a famous (but fictional--with lots of roman à clef notes) poet.
Galassi has dreamed up Ida Perkins–the “most gifted, glamorous, and elusive writer of her generation.” Most of the other characters are editors, poets, and publishers. Galassi succeeds in spinning a magnificent myth around the fictional Ida, both as a poet and as a unique human being who seems to have waltzed out of an earlier era and managed to hold center stage in the arts throughout the 20th century. Ida is a poet’s dream come true–would that there were characters like this on the current stage of our intellectual times!
What I enjoyed most about the book was not so much the larger than life character of Ida or the roman à clef about the publishing world that Muse definitely is–but Ida’s actual poetry, a small bit of which we are treated to in the novel.
The plot ultimately hinges on Ida making a just-before-death decision to entrust the posthumous publication of her heretofore secret work, Mnemosyne, to Paul Dukach, a young editor who has been studying Ida most of his life. The discovery and publication of Mnemosyne is like the current real life literary drama over publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, except that Mnemosyne is a rhapsodically beautiful book of poetry that also helps make sense out of Ida’s secret life.
Since this is a poet’s dream book, not only the literary world, but the rest of the world goes crazy for the posthumous Perkins material as well. The book sells 750,000 copies and President Obama convenes an East Room celebration of Ida Perkins, asking Oprah Winfrey to do the honors of reading from Mnemosyne.
The book ends with an achingly gorgeous poem from the Mnemosyne collection, which made me wish Ida Perkins were real and her collected works were out there to explore.
Galassi has executed quite a feat here. By writing a traditional novel about a fictional poet, he is able to sneak in several solid bits of actual poetry and create the beautiful illusion that we are living in a time when the publication of a long secret book of poems by someone like Ida Perkins could fascinate the literary world and the real world at the same time.
It is obviously not for nothing that Galassi titles Ida’s final work Mnemosyne. Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess figure who personified memory and she is the mother of all nine muses who oversee poetry and all the other arts in Greek mythology. Among the multiple meanings here, the most obvious one is that Galassi is recalling a memory of a mid-19th to mid-20th century time when great poets were writing great poetry and poetry mattered. Or, in the words of Ida Perkins:
Mnemosyne was there;
the only thing she does
is this: recall.
It’s what she does.
It’s who she is.
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