I picked up Thomas Mallon's Bandbox
because I saw my roommate reading it and was struck by the cover image:
So I asked her if it was good, and she said, "It's good, but there are a million characters and you probably won't be able to keep them straight."
I nodded, and eyed the book, which looked about 300 pages long at most, and thought about the five-zillion-page epic fantasy monstrosities I'd consumed in my fine, and thought smugly that I would probably be fine.
Spoilers: I was not fine. At this stage, having finished the book all of three hours ago, I still have no idea who half the cast were or how to describe their role in the story. The cast, as I remember it, consists of:
- Harris, the head of fancy men's fashion magazine Bandbox, now facing stiff competition from another, almost-identical magazine run by a former protege
- Jimmy, his former protege and NEMESIS
- Betsy, his deaf and competent girlfriend
- John/Shep, a teenager and loyal reader of Bandbox who then gets kidnapped by mobsters due to a misunderstanding
- Cuddles, a drunken ... assistant editor .....? ... anyway he used to do something useful and now he does nothing except Grantaire glumly around because he's hopelessly in love with
- Becky, a brisk and efficient staff writer who is finally getting good assignments and does many useful things, three cheers for Becky, and three cheers also for me for managing not to get her confused with Betsy
- Daisy, a sexy ... fact-checker ....? and former Duchess ...? who is dating a judge with ties to the mob and also occasionally sleeping with other people for fun and profit, which the narrative and everyone else is pretty cool with
- Jimmy again ...? (his name is probably not actually Jimmy), lady's man, man's man, man about town and also staff writer, who then gets into a very distressing plot in which he enters an abusive relationship with a movie star which drives him back into drink but which he can't end because he needs to write a staff column about her and also she stalks him when he tries to run away and it's EXTREMELY DISTURBING
- but it's fine because then he's rescued by Nan O'Grady who does something else at the magazine, and I have no idea what that something is but it's doesn't really matter because she's upgraded to muckracker columnist after she rescues Jimmy from the abusive movie star via muckraking
- a useless gay model whose name I can't remember
- a hapless gay restaurant-owner with a fake Italian accent and a crush on the useless gay model which, in the other worst subplot, he is SEVERELY AND UNFORTUNATELY narratively punished for it
- Alan (?), an ardently vegetarian copyeditor who, on the other hand, has the BEST subplot, in which he goes on a MISSION to rescue a KOALA BEAR and then EVERY OTHER ANIMAL WHICH IS EXPLOITED FOR FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY IN NEW YORK CITY
- an assorted collection of mobsters and colorful characters
- a whole bunch of other writers and staff members of the magazine who all presumably do SOMETHING important and frequently impact the plot in important ways but whom I could not keep individuated in my head for the life of me
- occasional appearances by knockoffs of famous people such as Ernest Hemingway
- occasional appearances by actual famous people such as Dorothy Gish
...so as you can see there's a lot going on in Bandbox!
Aside from the two most distressing subplots, it's a fairly enjoyable 1920s semi-slapstick whirlwind. (Well, 1928, to be specific. Enjoy the good times while they last, kids!) It would probably make an excellent miniseries, which I would enjoy because if they all had substantially different faces I might
be able to tell some of the characters apart. Also it might give an opportunity to cast some actors who are not white, since the book singularly fails to actively include any
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