||First Novels - Mags, Dogs, Blues, & Calumny
by Eva Tihanyi
Sure to raise the hackles of Toronto's close-knit magazine world is George Galt's highly entertaining roman-à-clef Scribes & Scoundrels (ECW Press, 251 pages, $18.95 paper), the story of Max Vellen, an editor at Berger's, pitted against the mighty print mogul Edward Clubb: arrogant, vain, unequivocally right-wing, and far too powerful for everyone else's good. It's easy to recognize the real-life models even if one isn't a media insider-Saturday Night, probably Galt himself, and of course Conrad Black-and this is undeniably part of the book's appeal. It is a revenge fantasy, a comic tale, and a satirical indictment of the magazine industry all rolled into one.
The plot is tight and unfolds smoothly, Galt crisscrossing the various lines of Max's professional and personal lives with dexterity. The former includes a lawsuit launched by Clubb as a response to a competing magazine's unabashedly nasty profile of him; an overweening freelance writer who is late with a cover feature on the prime minister (a feature the prime minister's good friend Clubb would prefer to kill because of its negative viewpoint); a self-serving, unscrupulous editor-in-chief regarded as an "evil gnome" who is on no-one's side but his own. The latter revolves mainly around Max's ex-girlfriend Sarah, who is in the process of publicly humiliating him. She has written an article for a women's magazine which details their relationship from its inception, when he answered her personal ad. All these sub-plots work well together.
Unfortunately, though, this is not a book with lasting appeal. Truly successful satires-and admittedly they're rare-reach beyond their original impetus, transcend their specific context, are fierce in their condemnation of human folly in general, not merely particular people. And, in this sense, Scribes & Scoundrels is tame, its bark better than its bite.