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5.0 2
by Thomas Mallon

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"Cuddles Houlihan got clipped by the vodka bottle as it exited the pneumatic tube. . . ." With that bottle we enter Bandbox, a hugely successful magazine of the 1920s, run by bombastic Jehoshaphat "Joe" Harris. Harris's most ambitious protégé ("the bastard son he never had") has just defected to run the competition, plunging Bandbox into a newsstand


"Cuddles Houlihan got clipped by the vodka bottle as it exited the pneumatic tube. . . ." With that bottle we enter Bandbox, a hugely successful magazine of the 1920s, run by bombastic Jehoshaphat "Joe" Harris. Harris's most ambitious protégé ("the bastard son he never had") has just defected to run the competition, plunging Bandbox into a newsstand death struggle. The magazine's fight for survival will soon involve a sabotaged fiction contest, the vice squad, a subscriber's kidnapping, and a film-actress cover subject who makes the heroines of Chicago look like the girls next door. While Harris and his magazine careen from comic crisis to make-or-break calamity, the reader races from skyscraper to speakeasy.

Thomas Mallon has given us a madcap romp of a book that brilliantly portrays Manhattan in the gaudiest American decade of them all.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Charms us into accepting the old illusions-that the good guys get the girls, hatchets get buried and everything at last comes out right." -Sven Birkerts, The New York Times Book Review

"Bandbox is retro in style, modern in sensibility, compact, imaginative, and wildly entertaining."-San Francisco Chronicle

The New York Times
Bandbox is slight but enjoyable, with enough sweet froth to put a mustache on the most finicky sipper. Readers who know little or nothing of the tempestuous teapot struggles in the New York magazine world will be gratified by the period detail as well as the pace. — Sven Birkerts
The Washington Post
Given the variety of Thomas Mallon's previous books, it seems to me very unlikely we'll be hearing this jazzy voice from him again anytime soon. Let us relish it while we have it. Bandbox is delicious. — Donald E. Westlake
The New Yorker
Mallon’s fizzy new novel is set at a men’s magazine during the Jazz Age—and a raging newsstand war. The aging but irrepressible Jehoshaphat Harris has made Bandbox into a roaring success, but now his right-hand man has left to start a rival magazine and the future of Harris’s venture is in jeopardy. As photo shoots go awry, profile subjects go berserk, and writers go on benders—some things don’t change—the novel, like its main character, never lets the energy flag. Mallon, in his other books, has gravitated toward previous eras out of an affinity for something like reticence. “Bandbox,” then, is a real departure: antic, stylized, and up-tempo. The dialogue has a Kaufman-and-Hart crackle, and the story boasts more lotharios, floozies, mobsters, and wised-up dames than an M-G-M double feature.
Publishers Weekly
A new, gleeful exuberance infuses Mallon's latest novel, in which he turns his talent for fastidious historical detail (Dewey Defeats Truman, etc.) to the elaboration of a comedy of errors set in Manhattan during the 1920s. Bandbox is the name of a successful monthly magazine for men, the first and best of its kind until the recent defection of its star editor, Jimmy Gordon, to establish the rival Cutaway. The narrative centers on the cutthroat competition between the two magazines, a suspenseful battle in which two Bandbox editors secretly defect to the other magazine, providing inside information that allows Jimmy to scoop his old boss and win the ratings game. The narrative is a tad slow getting started, since Mallon must introduce each name on the masthead and succinctly describe their various duties. All his characters are colorful and fully dimensional, however, especially Bandbox's aging editor-in-chief, Jehoshaphat (variously Joe, or Phat) Harris, who seems closely modeled on the legendary Harold Ross of the New Yorker. In addition to the magazine staff, there's a Hollywood star chosen to be the subject of a cover story. She's a foul-mouthed nymphomaniac called Rosemary La Roche, who trails chaos in her wake. Mallon adroitly establishes the atmosphere of the Jazz Age, dropping such names as Al Jolson, Leopold and Loeb, President Coolidge, George M. Cohan and the crime boss Arnold Rothstein. The latter is a pivotal character, because when his goons kidnap a kid from Indiana who has come to New York because he idolizes Bandbox, the plot acquires the elements of a thriller. Prohibition, police corruption, a court trial, in-house intrigue, the narcotics trade, animal rights, two gentle romances and several surprise revelations propel the plot, not to mention one of the best features Mallon's ability to convey the deadline-obsessed mentality of a monthly magazine. Mallon has never before employed his wit and humor to such good effect; he writes with comic brio, indulging in clever repartee and nimble farce. To quote the closing sentence: "What do we do for an encore?" (Jan. 6) Forecast: Prominent coverage (reviewers will relish the period publishing world setting) and Mallon's unusually lighthearted approach should make this one of the author's best-selling titles. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This comic novel by Mallon (Dewey Defeats Truman; Mrs. Paine's Garage) whirls around the no-holds-barred struggle between a veteran magazine editor and his one-time prot g in Prohibition New York City. In one corner is Joe Harris, the aging, oft-"sazzled" king of Bandbox, a once-moribund lifestyle book ("an overpriced rag for overaged pansies") that he rescued with a proven formula of "clothes and journalism"; in the other corner is the rising young Jimmy Gordon, beating Harris at his own roughhouse game running the copycat Cutaway. As the two battle for advertisers, a universe of secondary characters (the lothario "Bachelor's Life" columnist, an animal-loving, abduction-prone copy editor) revolves tightly around their patricidal struggle. The colorfully hectic scenes and wiseass talk make this novel less like Mallon's previous work and more reminiscent of the snappy movie comedies of Preston Sturgess or Ben Hecht. Mallon, who served in the 1980s as GQ's literary editor under the Harris-like Art Cooper, has written a quirky, stylish entertainment whose characters feast on the culture's surface-at a time when there was much to feast on. For all fiction collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/03.]-Nathan Ward, "Library Journal" Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Manhattan period melodrama, handled with roguish finesse. The byzantine plot begins with a daringly extended exposition in which Mallon, author of other historically based fiction (Henry and Clara, 1994; Dewey Beats Truman, 1997, etc.), introduces nearly two dozen characters. Foremost is Jehoshaphat "Joe" Harris, world-weary editor-in-chief of the struggling men's monthly magazine Bandbox (think Esquire), in a death struggle with rival publication Cutaway, edited by Harris's semi-scrupulous former employee Jimmy Gordon. The time is the mid-1920s. Journalists and their molls talk tough, drink hard, and mingle with such varied celebs as (fictional) film seductress Rosemary La Roche and (historical) crime boss Arnold Rothstein. Harris's bibulous vaudeville reporter "Cuddles" Houlihan pines for his lissome-and plucky-gal assistant Becky Walter. Suave columnist Stuart Newman disgraces Bandbox in a drunken meeting with president Calvin Coolidge. Smoldering photographer's model Waldo Lyndstrom's bisexual misadventures necessitate payoffs to police. Novelist-columnist Max Stanwick (a razor-sharp caricature of bon vivant Ben Hecht) moves in and out of criminous environments with Cagney-like aplomb. An animal-loving fact-checker sets out to rescue animals stashed in unsafe conditions for use by a phlegmatic staff photographer. A rigged fiction contest threatens to topple the magazine's credibility. And when Bandbox subscriber dewy-eyed Indianan John Shepard arrives in NYC and meets his raffish journalistic gods, an indiscreet remark prompted by his overindulgence in "near-beer" gets the kid kidnapped by Rothstein's goons and spirited away to a California ranch. Somehow Harris's feisty mag survivesthis "swirl of plagiarism, narcotics-selling . . . public drunkenness" and other embarrassments. Lost are found, lovers united, and Jehoshaphat trumps the ineffably slimy Gordon and lives to fight another day. Bandbox pulses with a comic energy and detail reminiscent of T.C. Boyle at his most entertainingly manic: it's a wonderful ride, and a quantum leap beyond Mallon's earlier fiction. Ragtime in double-time.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Harvest Book Series
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

Read an Excerpt

Cuddles Houlihan got clipped by the vodka bottle as it exited the pneumatic tube.


The cry of pain that filled the office came not from Cuddles, whose head still lay asleep on his desk, but from the tube. Its ultimate source was the office of Joe Harris, the editor-in-chief. At this late, sozzled hour, Harris had mistakenly fed the interoffice mail chute not the translucent canister containing his angry communication to Cuddles, but the still-half-full, six-dollar quart of hooch he was regularly supplied with by the countess in the fact-checking department.

Harris glowered for several seconds at the undispatched canister, before giving in to the impulse to open it up and look once more at what had enraged him in the first place: a photograph of Leopold and Loeb, smiling, each with an arm around the other, perched on the edge of an upper bunk in the Joliet State Prison, both of them avidly regarding the latest issue of Bandbox. The thrill killers held it open with their free hands, like a box of candy they were sharing on a back-porch swing.

Would make a great ad, said the inked message on the back of the photograph, whose bold penmanship Harris recognized as belonging to Jimmy Gordon, up until eight months ago his best senior editor here at Bandbox. "I think of you as a bastard son," he'd once told Jimmy in a burst of bibulous sentiment. Now, as editor-in-chief of Cutaway, the younger man was his head-to-head, hand-to-throat, competition. If Harris didn't think of something, this picture of those two murderous fairies reading Bandbox—the magazine that had made goddamn Jimmy Gordon, and remade Jehoshaphat Harris—would be plastered tothe side of every double-decker bus crawling up Fifth Avenue.

Rummaging his bottom drawer for another quart of vodka, Harris—a great curator of his own life story—managed to consider, yet again, with prideful amazement, how only five years had passed since Hiram Oldcastle, the publisher, had said, "You want it? It's yours," giving him the Bandbox job as if it were the keys to a jalopy. "An overpriced rag for overaged pansies," Oldcastle had called the dying men's fashion book, which had somehow never evolved out of the tintyped, stiff-collared days of McKinley. Harris would be the magazine's last chance before Oldcastle killed the sclerotic monthly and concentrated on his more robust publications, like Pinafore, for the "young miss"—edited by Harris's girlfriend, Betty Divine—and the shelter book, Manse.

"Give me six months," Harris had said.

"Take a year," Oldcastle had replied, sounding almost guilty about the eagerness with which the new editor wanted to take charge.

It took Harris one business quarter to bring Bandbox to life, to hit upon a formula that lured young men and advertisers back to a magazine no one had paid attention to for years. He kept the fashion—even made it fashionable—then butched up the rest of the production, adding a slew of stylish articles about all the sports, politics, crime, money, and movies that went into the current age's cocktail. Newsstand buyers and subscribers were now deciding they craved the camel-hair coat on page 46 just as much as they needed to sleep with the screen siren or buy the radio stock described a few pages away. The table of contents might sometimes seem a tasteless whipsaw—"New Hope for the Shell-Shocked" sitting right above "Look Terrific for Under Two Hundred"—but the magazine's turnaround had been so successful that by the spring of last year, Condé Nast decided he could not leave a whole new field to his usually more downmarket competitor, Oldcastle. Last March he had announced the start-up of Cutaway, exactly the sort of clothes-and-journalism book Harris had concocted; and on April 30, he had named Jimmy Gordon its editor.

Jimmy Gordon: who had brought in most of Harris's expensive new writers; who had three bad story ideas for every good one, but so many of each that, with Harris as a filter, every issue of Bandbox still abounded with first-rate stuff. Jimmy Gordon, who was now stealing not only Harris's formula but every keister not nailed down to the swivel chairs here on the fourteenth floor of the Graybar Building. He'd pried away three of his old writers, a photographer, and two production assistants, and had even made a run at Mrs. Zimmerman, the receptionist. But the real prize for Jimmy was Harris's readers and advertisers, whom he would surely keep wooing away if he managed, with stunts like this Leopold and Loeb picture, to undo the makeover of Bandbox. Things could turn around so quickly—hadn't Harris himself proved it?—that the older editor would be left with a shrunken subscriber base consisting chiefly of the perfumed boys you saw gazing at each other across the tables of the Jewel cafeteria.

Hazel Snow buzzed Harris from the outer office.

"It's a bad time!" he shouted.

Hazel ignored him. "Mr. Lord and Miss O'Grady here to see you," she said, indifferent to anything but her desire to go home. Through the intercom Harris could hear the squeaky sound of Hazel putting on her galoshes.

"You picked the worst possible moment!" he shouted to Richard Lord and Nan O'Grady once Hazel had ushered them in.

The English art and fashion director looked at his expensive shoes, still unscuffed at this late hour, and whispered, "It's about Lindstrom, I'm afraid."

"What about him?" Harris asked, in a voice that made plain, for all its volume, that he would rather know nothing new concerning Waldo Lindstrom, the handsomest young man in New York, and Bandbox's most frequent cover model now that photographs were replacing illustrations. Harris would be more receptive to tidings of this Adonis were Lindstrom not also an omnisexual cocaine addict who had escaped from the Kansas State Penitentiary a few years ago at the age of twenty, and whose work for Oldcastle Publications depended on frequent payments from Harris to the NYPD's vice squad.

"He never showed up," murmured Lord, while he adjusted the two points of his breast-pocket handkerchief.

"Find his pusher!" bellowed Harris. "Call the morgue! Why are you bothering me? And why are you bothering me?" he continued, turning his eyes and anger to Nan O'Grady, the copy chief, whose lower lip had begun to tremble. A tear wobbled in the lower reaches of her left eye, ready to drip down her powdered cheek and cut a line that would run parallel to her straight red hair.

"It's Mr. Stanwick's piece on Arnold Rothstein."

Max Stanwick, a successful writer of hard-boiled mystery novels, now also wrote features for Bandbox on the nation's ever-burgeoning crime wave. The fact-checkers sometimes muttered that he had made no discernible shift from the methods of his old genre to those of nonfiction, but Stanwick's pieces were immensely popular and the occasion for some of Harris's more memorable cover lines: lend me your ears had announced Max's recent report on a spate of loan-sharking mutilations in Detroit. Harris trembled at the thought of losing him to Jimmy Gordon, who had brought him to Bandbox in the first place.

"And what's the problem with Stanwick, Miss O'Grady? Some people in his piece saying 'who' instead of 'whom'? They're gangsters, Irish."

Nan, who until two years ago had edited lady novelists at Scribner's, and who had taken this better-paying job to help support the mother she lived with out in Woodside, forced her lower lip to stiffen. The tear in her left eye sank backwards without spilling. She glared at her boss. "It's not a question of subject versus object, Mr. Harris. It's a question of . . . schvantz." She pronounced it with the lilting precision of a lieder singer.

"Whose schvantz?" Harris wanted to know.

"Mr. Rothstein's, apparently."

Harris hesitated for only a second. "Well, keep it in!"

Nan, her lower lip now fully retracted, held her ground. "I assure you that it's in no known style book, and I guarantee you that within a week of publication, a half-dozen of your precious advertisers will have protested its use in—"

"More schvantzes all around!" cried Harris, suddenly on his feet. "And the balls to go with them! This is a men's magazine! Out! And close the door behind you!"

After Harris watched a trio of departing forms—Hazel's among them—through the frosted glass of his door, he allowed himself to sit back down and light a cigar. He looked out the fourteenth-floor windows of his corner office to the vertical world aborning all around him. The Bowery Savings Bank loomed in the southeast, and a few streets over, close to the river, he could see the absurd new towers of Tudor City, in whose tiny apartments his aging pals had taken to stashing their chorines and tootsies. Directly across Lexington Avenue, and also one block south, squares of earth were roped off for the great excavations now sprouting the Chrysler and Chanin buildings.

It all made Harris dizzy. From his long-ago days on the Newburgh Messenger until this past fall, when Oldcastle had moved the company a few blocks up from its old quarters and into the gleaming new Graybar, Harris had always climbed a single flight of stairs to reach his job. Now every morning and evening his stomach endured the fast jumps and drops of the Graybar's elevator, the trip made worse if he happened to be sharing the car with Jimmy Gordon, who'd be on his way to and from the Graybar's fanciest floor—reserved by Condé Nast even before the building went up, thus exciting Oldcastle's competitive relocation.

Harris took a gulp of the countess's hooch and opened up the Evening Graphic to a cartoon panel above the "Aviation News" column, a few square inches he liked to settle into for a moment or two each evening as the clouds began turning pink outside his skyscraping aerie. Tonight—January 13, 1928—"New York's Gas Lit Life" featured the sketch of a buxom "stagestruck damsel," a young Lillian Russell type, auditioning for a well-fed theatrical manager. Little more than her parasol and bloomers shielded her ample virtues.

Harris sighed, recalling the days of his youth, the long-ago eighties and nineties, an era before big trenchermen had ever heard of exercise and before bosoms had deflated to the pitiful boyish protuberances on modern girls like Hazel Snow. He closed his eyes and, for a few seconds, took himself back to summer nights alive with the tootlings of oompah bands instead of the discordant, mystifying notes of jazz; to the orating politician's thrilling cry for free silver instead of Everyman's current pursuit of ubiquitous easy money.

Harris was sixty years old and, in truth, as much a throwback to the age of McKinley as the old Bandbox had been. But in order to sustain his reanimating magic, he had to keep current with all the flat chests and blues singers and tennis champions driving this frantic new age into which he'd outlived himself. If only he could bring himself to leave the game, gracefully conclude his career by editing Knife and Fork, Oldcastle's food magazine, for a couple of years. All he'd have to do for each month's cover was find a good-looking pork chop or strawberry cake, neither of which, unlike Waldo Lindstrom, would have a cocaine habit.

Meet the Author

Thomas Mallon's books include the novels Henry and Clara, Two Moons, Dewey Defeats Truman, and Aurora 7; a collection of essays, In Fact; and his book on the assassination of JFK, Mrs. Paine's Garage. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The American Scholar, and GQ. He received the National Book Critics Circle award for reviewing in 1998. The recipient of a 2000 Guggenheim Fellowship, he lives in Westport, Connecticut.

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Bandbox 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The characters of Bandbox seem to pop right out of the pages. The setting is perfect, New York in the roaring twenties. If you like the time period, this is a book to read! There are so many things going on in this book and in the end they all come together for a gorgeous finale! I was laughing out loud and eagerly turning the pages. I may have even gasped a few times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is my first Thomas Mallon read, and I spent most of it reading and laughihg out loud. A real roaring twenties roaring triumph and this comes from near the home of a participating character, silent Cal Coolidge from just up the road in Plymouth Vermont. This is great fun and highly recommended. Len, Springfield, VT