Elise Blackwell’s Grub is neither the most unique, nor the most cliche rendition of the starving artist saga, set in New York City. What I enjoyed about the book is the fly on the wall experience of spying on a group of young writers living in New York, struggling to write, to publish and win fame with their written work. This books it tauted as a retelling of George Gissing’s New Grub Street.
This books follows the loveless marriage of Eddie and Amanda Renfros, the budding relationship between Jackson Miller and Margot Yarborough, daughter of author Andrew Yarborough, and also that of Henry Baffler, the writer that cannot tell a lie. This group struggles to make ends meet financially, romantically and emotionally. Competition is ripe between couples, between friends and all six characters bring new levels of cynicism to the superficial powers that be, those that determine what sells and what doesn’t. Chuck Fadge is hoisted as a symbol of idiocy, and verbal trash, pawning off his limited skill set to future would-be writers. The funny thing, is that while Fadge does not deny who he is, the other set seem to be blindly following the same path Fadge laid down. There is competition and jealousy between friends, between lovers and even between father and daughter. I guess the old adage birds of a feather flock together, rings true in this lover, as writers, it seems, are only friends with other writers, either published or unpublished.
Elise traces the evolution of the writers, as they transfer from near-fame to quiet neglect, and struggle to get back to the top with cheesy best-seller formulaic writing. I’m not sure if this book is intended to insult readers, by its gripping and maybe truthful observations of what is popular and what is not. What sells and what doesn’t. There seems to be a theme in literature of what readers are looking for. It seems that in the past couple of years, memoirs have taken on a new life in the literary world, but were does that place regular fiction? People are now writing fiction and passing it off as memoirs because it garners more respect that way. If anything, I will now always wonder if the book I am reading is written from true devotion, or if it based on a formulaic diversion simply implemented to be a best-seller. Is one better than the other? For the author, obviously the latter will bring in more sales, but the former will cement his place in history with more reverence. Will the reader even be able to distinguish the formulaic from the genuine?
This book is very engrossing, with each chapter focusing on a specific character. The chapters are pretty short ranging from 2 to 10 pages, which in effect keeps the book going steadily and is hard to put down. Elise Blackwell does not dwell too long on any particular character, but each character has a unique depth with this someone trite struggling artist story. The point of the book, however, is not the story itself, but of the characters finding their own identities through their writing.