Three Martinis, Three Narrators

three-martini-lunch

It was bizarre the way time was like an accordion, and distinct moments that felt so disparate sometimes folded together with a callous symmetry.

Three-Martini Lunch was largely the inspiration for my rewatching Mad Men. The novel is set in Greenwich Village in 1958, two years before the start of the show. Although Mad Men mostly inhabits a different social sphere, Don has a few run-ins with hipsters in the Village. Reading the book and watching the show at the same time enriched both experiences for me.

Suzanne Rindell is the author of The Other Typist, one of my favorite books in recent years. In her second novel, she turns her attention to a different era of New York City. Three-Martini Lunch intertwines the lives of a Greenwich Village hipster, an aspiring editor fresh off the bus from Indiana, and a talented writer from Harlem. While her first novel showed a gift for character voice, Rindell takes this a step further by creating three distinct voices in her latest work. She makes me absolutely feel the characters through their way of thinking and speaking. With Three-Martini Lunch, she brings together individuals from very different backgrounds to create a surprising and meaningful story.

Cliff Nelson has chosen the Village lifestyle, but he was raised in wealth with a successful book editor for a father. Eden Katz pursues a publishing career amid hints that her Jewish last name, not to mention being female, could be barriers. Miles Tillman was raised in Harlem, but his intellectualism and natural writing ability draw him into the Village crowd. The Other Typist was deliciously unnerving because of its unreliable narrator. Although Rindell explores similar ground with Cliff, his delusions of grandeur are more along the lines of hilarious or pathetic. The reader is invited to question the biases of all three narrators, which I think is one of the most valuable effects literature can have.

Suzanne Rindell is a literature nerd’s novelist. While all writing is in conversation with the work that came before it, Rindell is unusually candid about her literary inspirations. And I love that about her! Three-Martini Lunch has echoes of Jack Kerouac, Sylvia Plath, and James Baldwin—all of these cited by Rindell in the acknowledgments. Having read The Bell Jar earlier this year, I enjoyed seeing the parallels between Eden and Esther Greenwood’s experiences as young women trying to enter the elite world of writers and editors. Not to mention, Eden lives at the Barbizon Hotel for Women, just as Plath did when she stayed in New York for a summer internship. (Esther lived in a fictionalized version of the Barbizon.)

Although I was more familiar with the cultural reference points for Cliff and Eden’s stories, Miles was the emotional heart of the story. As he attempts to learn more about his late father, he is forced to confront the complexities of his own identity. Miles and Cliff are excellent foils. At first glance Miles certainly seems like a more reliable narrator, but his restrained manner extends to the way he tells the story. I may want to work backwards to the source material and read some James Baldwin. Probably a sign that I didn’t want this book to end.

One great book makes a new favorite book. Two great books makes a new favorite author. Pairing history with fascinatingly flawed characters and all things identity-themed, Suzanne Rindell is right in my sweet spot.

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1 Comment

Filed under Books

One response to “Three Martinis, Three Narrators

  1. Pingback: Best of 2016: Book Edition, Part 2 | Courtney Coherent

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