GRUB

Elise Blackwell

A long overdue retelling of New Grub Street—George Gissing’s classic satire of the Victorian literary marketplace—Grub chronicles the triumphs and humiliations of a group of young novelists living in and around New York City.

Eddie Renfros, on the brink of failure after his critically acclaimed first book, wants only to publish another novel and hang on to his beautiful wife, Amanda, who has her own literary ambitions and a bit of a roving eye. Among their circle are writers of every stripe—from the Machiavellian Jackson Miller to the ‘experimental writer’

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A long overdue retelling of New Grub Street—George Gissing’s classic satire of the Victorian literary marketplace—Grub chronicles the triumphs and humiliations of a group of young novelists living in and around New York City.

Eddie Renfros, on the brink of failure after his critically acclaimed first book, wants only to publish another novel and hang on to his beautiful wife, Amanda, who has her own literary ambitions and a bit of a roving eye. Among their circle are writers of every stripe—from the Machiavellian Jackson Miller to the ‘experimental writer’ Henry who lives in squalor while seeking the perfect sentence. Amid an assortment of scheming agents, editors, and hangers-on, each writer must negotiate the often competing demands of success and integrity, all while grappling with inner demons and the stabs of professional and personal jealousy. The question that nags at them is this: What is it to write a novel in the twenty-first century?

Pointedly funny and compassionate, Grub reveals what the publishing industry does to writers—and what writers do to themselves for the sake of art and to each other in the pursuit of celebrity.

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  • Toby Press
  • Hardcover
  • September 2007
  • 380 Pages
  • 9781592641994

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$24.95

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About Elise Blackwell

Elise Blackwell is the author of The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish and Hunger, chosen by the Los Angeles Times as one of the best books of 2003. Her stories have appeared in Witness, Seed, Global City Review, Topic, and elsewhere. Originally from southern Louisiana, she teaches at the University of South Carolina.

Praise

Book Sense Pick – An Independent Booksellers’ Recommendation

“A fizzy contemporary-Manhattan retelling of New Grub Street… A quick-paced, amusing novel.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In this deliciously mordant send-up of the publishing world, Elise Blackwell conjures up a universe filled with talentless novelists, reptilian publishers, unprincipled agents and brain-dead critics. Thank God this is only a fantasy. Thank God any similarity to real life is entirely fortuitous.”
—Joe Queenan, bestselling author and book reviewer for New York Times Book Review

Grub is a mordantly witty, thoroughly stimulating absolutely wonderful, satire of the New York literary world and of the price of being a literary success in America.”
—The Islamorada Free Press

Discussion Questions

Jackson Miller and Eddie Renfros are both friends and rivals. Which one would you argue is the novel’s hero? Which one is more sympathetic? Does Jackson possess any endearing traits? What are Eddie’s flaws? Does Amanda make the logical choice in choosing one over the other?

The title of the novel refers to both New Grub Street and the posh restaurant where Doreen works. What connotations does the word “grub” have and how are they present in the novel?

Grub can be read as a satire, and its characters as “types.” For instance, Henry Baffler is a classic starving artist, while Amanda Renfros can be read as a heartless social climber. Do such characters illuminate human types outside of fiction? Do you think the characters in Grub are based on actual people? Does the world of Grub mirror contemporary commercial publishing?

To what extent are the “unsuccessful” writers, particularly Margot Yarborough and Henry Baffler, responsible for their own fates? To what extent are they victims of the publishing business? Would you say that they are happier or more miserable than the writers who decide to write for a more popular audience?

Do any of the “novels” within the novel sound like books you would want to read? Would you rather read Conduct or Sea Miss by Eddie Renfros? Does Margot’s Pontchartrain sound like a novel worth reading? What about the novels penned by Jackson and Amanda? Why or why not?

Writing in The Guardian, D. J. Taylor claims that New Grub Street is “one of those terrible books-terrible, that is, to anyone who has ever picked up a pen in earnest-in which every piece of human psychology on display is fatally bound up with the circumstances of literary production.” He notes that “the characters who succeed in their ambitions are generally those who care least about literature.” Can the same be said of Grub? Why do you think the author dedicated the book to “every writer with an unpublished novel?”

While living as part of a museum exhibit of writers, Henry Baffler worries that the novel itself has become a “museum piece.” Is the literary novel a historical artifact, or is its future brighter than the one Henry sees for it? What makes you think so?