Jonathan Galassi's debut novel reads with the exuberance of a man half his age and with intellect of a successful businessman. In the publishing industry, there is the big four comprised of Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette Livre, there is the rest, constantly shrinking in number, and then there is Farrar, Straus and Giroux. FSG is by no means a powerhouse in terms of commercial sales, and has gone through its fair share of turmoil throughout its almost seventy year history, but in terms of prestige and publishing serious literature, it is arguably the best publishing house around. Twenty-two Nobel Prize winners, twenty-two Pulitzer Prize winners, and twenty-three National Book Award winners, while not churning out the amount of titles per year as other successful houses is remarkable.
For the past three decades Jonathan Galassi has been the President and Publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. He has published three collections of poetry and handled numerous translations, but his first crack at novel writing came in the form of Muse. The trend of writers writing about novelists is nothing new, and the results are varied to say the least, and Galassi has produced a novel of a similar nature. What separates Galassi from these types of novels is that his vast knowledge and experience in the publishing industry provides him with chops to fully encompass the literary world from writers to editors to publishers.
Muse, at times, reads like a literary history lesson, and at others, a romance with beautiful literature and prose. The novel centers around two publishing houses with a rivalry, a revolutionary poet, and an editor who gets caught in between it all. Galassi puts his love of poetry into play, often times having bits of poems sandwiched in between the prose. He makes references to poets such as T. S. Eliot who happened to be a FSG published writer when talking about the darling of poetry, his fictitious darling of lyrical poetry, Ida Perkins.
Make no mistake, Muse is dense, but for those interested in the publishing industry, Galassi has, for all intents and purposes, fictionalized the life he has lived in with a staggering amount of detail. 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. He even includes a bibliography of her work at the end of the novel.
The question that comes to mind is why did such a talented writer wait until his mid-sixties to publish his first novel? He has spent the better part of his life dedicating his time to writers and promoting their work. Galassi has put more depth into a novel of around 250 pages than a lot of books twice its size. He likely toiled over this novel for many years, a large amount of those spent in the brainstorming phase, whether he knew it or not.
Jonathan Galassi has a treasure trove of information about the literary world 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 fictional history lesson, a love letter to beautiful writing. Jonathan Galassi has been inspired by his Muse.
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