Few would probably know better than veteran authors Garrison Keillor and Martha Grimes, who use the industry that has served them so well as the backdrops for their latest works of fiction. “Love Me“ is the latest from storyteller extraordinaire Keillor, who has penned nearly a dozen books, along with being a radio host and regular contributor to Time magazine and the online Salon.com. “Foul Matters“ is a change of pace for Grimes, a top-selling mystery writer who has cranked out 18 acclaimed novels featuring Scotland Yard detective Richard Jury.
The considerable legion of fans for both authors know that in addition to being prolific, skilled and extremely witty writers, they most likely knows plenty about the nooks and crannies of the publishing world, which makes for provocative fodder, indeed. Some might see the new books as being a case of biting the hand that feeds them, but true or not, both make for satirically juicy and humorously satisfying meals.
Love Me by Garrison Keillor
The protagonist here is Larry Wyler, a Minneapolis-based writer who had a brush with fame with his debut bestseller and hasnt had much good luck since. As Keillor often does, he sets the stage quickly and with detail, putting the reader on intimate terms with his subject in short order:
“I attained old married guyhood despite some outstanding bad behavior on my part and an unsuccessful lunge at fame and riches a long time ago. There was a fairly popular novel, *Spacious Skies,* and an apartment at the Bel Noir on Central Park West in New York and an office at *The New Yorker* with a drawing on the wall above my desk that James Thurber scrawled there years ago with a carpenters pencil. A thoughtful dog with a harpy standing over him, saying, ““I know what youre thinking and the answer is No, No, No.“ J. D. Salinger‘s office was down the hall and J. F. Powerss and S. J. Perelmans. John Updike smiled at me in the hallways. Calvin Trillin took me to lunch. The great editor William Shawn became a pal of mine. Him and me went barhopping and got so soused we had to hold each other up. God, I loved that man. We played golf and sailed his boat, the Shawnee, through the Verrazano Narrows and out to sea and fished for grouper. I was in New York for six years and Iris almost divorced me, on grounds of emotional distance, but then I wrote a wretched second novel, *Amber Waves of Grain,* which bombed so badly she took pity on me and called off the dogs. I came down with a brutal case of writers block. Wrote one sentence of *Purple Mountains‘ Majesty* and quit. The sentence was: ““He and the Mrs. dreamed of alabaster cities but here they were in St. Paul and what could they do but cry in their soup?“ Couldnt write worth beans.“
The basis of the book is Wylers tumultuous relationship with his talent, the publishing industry and his wife, not necessarily in that order. Droll and sharply observant, Keillor follows Wyler from New York and its high life to the Midwest and its somewhat more staid routine of daily living, as he sets about the often painful quest of clarifying ones personal and professional goals. Eventually, he becomes an advice columnist known as “Mr. Blue,“ which Keillor fans will recognize based on his own real-life stint with Salon.com, and as the lines between art and reality blur, they also sharpen, providing some unexpected insight. All in all, this may not be Keillors best-written work, but even lesser efforts from this talent are well worth the time, and fans wont want to miss it.
Foul Matters by Martha Grimes
“Foul matter“ is a publishing term for an unedited, original manuscript, and theres plenty thats foul (and also extremely funny) in this story of a high successful, John Grisham-like writer named Paul Giverney, who wants to sign on with a new publishing house, but under some strange terms. When we first meet him, we get a glimpse into the affluent lifestyle his work has provided him:
“Paul Giverney aimed a paper airplane at the window of his small office (“off. bdrm 3“ in the rental ad) and watched it nose-dive to the floor. The Giverneys apartment was in the East Village, not quite as trendy as the Village itself. The rent was unbelievable, the agent a scam artist, but they loved the apartment, especially (for him) the “off. bdrm 3,“ which was the perfect size for bookshelves, desk, and computer, a couple of chairs, and with a window that looked out on leafy branches. Hannah was seven and loved the park. Molly was thirty-six and loved the Dean & DeLuca on the other side of it. Paul loved the hungover, brassy scene of the East Village foot soldiers who always appeared to be walking off a morning after, bits of metallic conversations stabbing backward as they passed in the cold air. People couldnt understand it about the Giverneys; they were extremely rich and yet chose to live in a rental in the East Village. Why didnt Central Park West beckon to them? Why didnt they succumb to the siren song of Sutton Place or the Dakota? Why? Because they didnt. Paul gave a lot of his money to charity, a good third of it. Another third to Dean & DeLuca, but they still managed on the million or two left.
The paper airplane was one of his lists of publishers, one he had stricken several names from. Publishers on the left side of the page, writers on the right side. The airplane he had fashioned was the long list. Now the lists before him were the short ones -- five writers, four publishers. He struck one of the publishers off, two of the writers. Three publishers, three writers. What he was doing was matching them up.“
Giverneys caveat for joining forces with the Mackenzie-Haack house is for them to dump one of their clients, Ned Isaly, a writer whos nowhere near Giverneys league in terms of sales, but is rather respected. The predicament leads to an impressively imaginative turn of events, involving publishers, agents, mobsters, innocent bystanders of all sorts, and, of course, the writers themselves. Greed is a primary motivating factor for everyone who comes to have a stake in the conflict, and the picture Grimes paints isnt very pretty, though almost always comedic. Quick wit, solid characterizations and plenty of atmosphere push this one over the top, proving that at age 72, Grimes is still a force with which to be reckoned.