Revenge Of The Middle-Aged Woman
'Here,' said Minty, my deputy, with one of her breathy laughs, 'the review has just come in. It's hilariously vindictive.' She pushed towards me a book entitled A Thousand Olive Trees by Hal Thorne with the review tucked into it.
For some reason, I picked up the book. Normally I avoided anything to do with Hal but I did not think it mattered this once. I was settled, busy, different, and I had made my choice a long time ago.
When we first discussed my working on the books' pages, Nathan argued that, if I ever achieved my ambition to become the books editor, I would end up hating books. Familiarity bred contempt. But I said that Mark Twain had got it better when he said that familiarity breeds not so much contempt but children, and wasn't Nathan's comment a reflection on his own feelings about his own job? Nathan replied, 'Nonsense, have I ever been happier?' and 'You wait and see'. (The latter was said with one of his lovely, strong-man I know-better-than-you smiles, which I always enjoyed.) So far, he had been wrong.
For me, books remained full of promise, and contained a sense of possibility, any possibility. In rocky times, they were saviours and lifebelts, and when I was younger they provided chapter and verse when I had to make decisions. Over the years of working with them, it had become second nature to categorize them by touch. Thick, rough, cheaper paper denoted a paperback novel. Poetry hovered on weightless and were decorated with wide white margins. Biographies were heavy with photographs and the secrets of this subjects' life.
A Thousand Olive Trees was slim and compact, a typical travelogue whose cover photograph was of a hard, blue sky and a rocky, isolated shoreline beneath. It looked hot and dry, the kind of terrain where feet slithered over scree, and bruises sprouted between the toes.
Minty was watching my reaction. She had a trick of fixing her dark, slightly slanting eyes on whoever, and of appearing not to blink. The effect was of rapt, sympathetic attention, which fascinated people and also, I think, comforted them. That dark, intent gaze had certainly comforted me many times during the three years we had worked together in the office.
'"This man is a fraud,'" she cited from the review.
'" And his book is worse . . ."'
'What do you suppose he's done to deserve the vitriol?' I murmured.
'Sold lots of copies,' Minty shot back.
I handed her A Thousand Olive Trees. 'You deal. Ring up his agent, Dan Thomas, and see if he'll do a quickie.'
'Not up to it. Rose?' She spoke slowly and thoughtfully, but with an edge I did not quite recognize. 'Don't you think you should be by now?'
I smiled at her. I liked to think that Minty had become a friend, and because she always spoke her mind I trusted her. 'No. It's not a test. I just don't wish to handle Hal Thorne's books.'
'Fine.' She picked her way round the boxes on the floor, which was packed with them, and sat down. 'Like you said, I know how to deal.' I am not sure she approved. Neither did I, for it was not professional behaviour to ignore a book, certainly not one that would receive a lot of attention.
My attention was diverted by the internal phone. It was Steven from Production. 'Rose, I'm very sorry but we are going to have to cut a page from Books for the twenty-ninth.'
'Sorry, Rose. Can you do it by this afternoon?'
'Twice running, Steve. Can't someone else be the sacrificial lamb? Cookery? Travel?'
Steven was harassed and impatient. In our business - getting a paper out - time dictated our decisions and our reactions. After a while, it became second nature, and we spoke to each other in a shorthand. There was never time for the normal give and take of argument. I glanced at Minty. She was typing away studiously, but she was, I knew, listening in. I said reluctantly, 'I could manage it by tomorrow morning.'
From Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan, Copyright Elizabeth Buchan February 2003,. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking Press, a member of the Penguin Group, Inc.
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