Nothing Serious by Daniel Klein. Publisher: The Permanent Press (2013). Fiction. 216 pages. ISBN13: 9781579623142.
After working in the 1980’s and 1990’s for The Village Voice and New York Magazine– a glorious time to work in print journalism—the pot-smoking, elitist Digby Maxwell finds himself out of work. What happens when a New York trend spotter accepts a position at a small Vermont college to edit and modernize a failing philosophical journal? Everything. It forces Digby Maxwell much self-reflection and compromise.
Author Daniel Klein [himself a Harvard graduate in philosophy] writes: “The source of this talent, he believes, is his aptitude for empathy in the service of exploiting rather than helping his fellow man. He picked up quickening vibes where others only picked up cacophony; he detected subconscious whims in the unconscious masses.” As Digby familiarizes himself with the Cogito staff and attempts to bring the coolness factor to the magazine it becomes clear that either Digby’s fooling everyone or he’s the fool.
For decades in Manhattan, Digby chose the cool bands, coffee shops and various social trends well before his readers had heard about them. He lived a lavish and comfortable lifestyle. Paid well for his editing and writing and most likely guest-listed for art gallery openings, clubs, concerts and receiving all the latest wonder products gratis. At Cogito, Digby must come to terms with his waning power and lack of relevance as the editorial world changes. However he’s not quick to relinquish his abilities and ideas. The first issue he edits will focus exclusively on Heaven, not a popular choice with the staff or with the journal’s sponsors. Klein writes: “The ad pulls by those stodgy university presses are actually a testimony to his innovative genius; they simply cannot keep up with him.”
Taking the fish-out –of-water novel to an innovative, brilliant level, Klein writes a witty, crisp, intellectually amusing and thoughtful novel about a writer and editor coming to terms with not being at the zeitgeist. Any wordsmith, consummate reader will appreciate well-designed sentences such as: “Yet finally discerning the pattern of Felcia’s deviousness brings him a dulcet dose of peace.” Nothing Serious is a brilliant meditation on print media and its changing format and relevance.
–review by Amy Steele
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from The Permanent Press.