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The latest novel from the bestselling author of Dollface and What the Lady Wants takes us deep into the tumultuous world of 1950s Chicago where a female journalist struggles with the heavy price of ambition...
Every second of every day, something is happening. There’s a story out there buried in the muck, and Jordan Walsh, coming from a family of esteemed reporters, wants to be the one to dig it up. But it’s 1955, and the men who dominate the city room of the Chicago Tribune have no interest in making room for a female cub reporter. Instead Jordan is relegated to society news, reporting on Marilyn Monroe sightings at the Pump Room and interviewing secretaries for the White Collar Girl column.
Even with her journalistic legacy and connections to luminaries like Mike Royko, Nelson Algren, and Ernest Hemingway, Jordan struggles to be taken seriously. Of course, that all changes the moment she establishes a secret source inside Mayor Daley’s office and gets her hands on some confidential information. Now careers and lives are hanging on Jordan’s every word. But if she succeeds in landing her stories on the front page, there’s no guarantee she’ll remain above the fold.…
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Renée Rosen is the bestselling author of What the Lady Wants, Dollface, and the young adult novel, Every Crooked Pot. She lives in Chicago where she is at work on a new novel.
Read an Excerpt
It was Voltaire and me. I stood inside the Tribune Tower and stared at his quote inscribed in the limestone: “I do not agree with a word that you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
The elevator cars were dinging as people rushed past me to fill them, but I stood still. I needed a moment to absorb where I was and what I had to do. My eyes landed on Milton’s: “Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all other liberties.” I savored every word, letting them dissolve like something sweet on my tongue. This was a pledge, a vow I’d taken to protect and uphold.
The elevator operator held the door for me. My sweaty palms left marks on the handrails, on everything I touched. I was nervous. Excited, too. But more than anything, I was burdened by the weight of generations riding on my shoulders. It was time for me, Jordan Walsh, to carry on the family tradition. My father had been a war correspondent during World War II and before that during the Spanish Civil War, working alongside Ernest Hemingway. My mother was the daughter of a newspaperman and during the war in Europe she, too, took a job as a reporter at the City News Bureau. My brother, Eliot, named after my mother’s favorite poet, T. S. Eliot, had worked at the newly formed Sun-Times.
Eliot was the real reason I was at the Tribune. All my life he’d been the push behind me, convincing me to climb the giant oak in our backyard and ride the Bobs or the Silver Streak at Riverview Park. Just because I was a girl didn’t mean I couldn’t keep up. He made me believe I could do anything he could do, including becoming a reporter. Eliot had been a rising star at the paper when he was killed. A hit-and-run accident that took him far too soon. All he wanted was to be a reporter, and now it was up to me to live out that dream for both of us. That was the promise I’d made to him at his funeral two years ago.
I stepped off the elevator on the fourth floor and entered an enormous open room. A sea of desks, one butted up right against the other, clustered beneath the fog of cigarette and pipe smoke. I passed by the John T. McCutcheon Injun Summer poster on the wall and entered deeper into the echo chamber. The linoleum floor amplified every click of the typewriters, every clack of heels walking about the room. I was surrounded by telephones ringing, portable radios murmuring, dozens of people talking and shouting. I stood invisible while conversations volleyed across the room:
“Did you get confirmation?”
“Still working on it.”
"We need another quote.”
Pages were ripped from the typewriters and waved in the air, followed by cries of, “Copy. Cop-py.” Young boys scrambled up to snatch and deliver the stories to the horseshoe in the middle of the room. That was where the four key editors sat. They were stationed along the rim with the slot man on the inside, in the center, so he could dole out the assignments. Every inch of that horseshoe was covered with newspapers, books, telephone directories, overflowing ashtrays and stained coffee cups. It wasn’t even eight o’clock in the morning and the frenetic energy in the room suggested that everyone was already behind schedule, running out of time. Welcome to the Chicago Tribune city room. It was the picture of chaos. And I loved it.
I spotted Mr. Pearson, the features editor, standing over his desk, still wearing his fedora and overcoat as he typed away. He hadn’t even taken a moment to sit down. I hovered nearby and cleared my throat. He didn’t look up. Instead he remained over his typewriter, pecking away, two-finger style.
To most people Mr. Pearson might have appeared rude, but I understood newspapermen. As a young girl I had spent many a day in the city room with my father, keeping quiet, waiting while he banged out a story. I longed to have my fingertips up against the deadline, my mind so consumed with facts that I couldn’t be bothered to take off my coat for fear that some detail might escape me.
I was acutely aware that time equaled the creation of news. Every second of every day something was happening out there—maybe something sinister or uplifting, criminal or joyous. To me news was a living, breathing entity. The facts and circumstances were like cells that divided and subdivided. Inevitable and unstoppable. A story was always taking shape, evolving, and it was up to people like me to discover it, dig down in the muck and pull it out, roots and all.
Mr. Pearson was still typing, and I waited patiently, thinking how this was a good time to work at the paper. There was a new boss in town, and Chicago was in the spotlight. Richard J. Daley had just been elected mayor, and he had promised to bring big changes to the city. He would revitalize the Loop and build expressways. He had plans for expanding O’Hare Airport and for expanding the city, too, with buildings going up at record speeds and more cranes sweeping the skyline every day. Yes, it was an exciting time to call myself a member of the Chicago press.
“Who are you?” Mr. Pearson asked at last without looking up.
“Jordan. Jordan Walsh.”
I was deflated. He didn’t seem to have any recollection of our interview less than two weeks before. “I’m the new reporter. Remember? You hired me? To cover . . .” My voice trailed off when he raised his eyes, keeping his index fingers poised on the typewriter keys.
“Marie— Where the hell is she? Mrs. Angelo?” he called out. “Mrs. Angelo—Mrs.—”
“I’m right here. I’m coming.” I heard the clunk, clunk, clunk of heels before my eyes landed on an attractive older woman, probably in her mid-fifties. She was short and had brown and silver-flecked hair that flipped up at her chin. “I’m right here,” she said. “You don’t have to holler.”
“Come show Robin here—”
“It’s Jordan,” I corrected him.
He didn’t care. He removed his fedora, revealing a full head of wavy white hair that didn’t match his dark eyebrows, thick as caterpillars. “Show Robin here to her desk,” Mr. Pearson said over the sound of his resumed typing. “This is your new society writer.”
Mrs. Angelo shook my hand, firm as any man would, and introduced herself. She was the society editor and one of only a handful of women on the floor.
“Come with me,” she said. “I’ll get you situated.”
She walked me around the floor, weaving in and around desks and down hallways. There was so much to take in, and by the end of our tour, I was discombobulated and couldn’t remember which doorway led to the lavatories, the photo lab, the wire machine room or the morgue, where the archived articles were laid to rest. There were so many department desks, too, each one piled high with newspapers, books, telephones and other clutter. I couldn’t recall which one was the financial desk, the telegraph desk, the cable desk or the city desk. And that was only the fourth floor.
“Oh, and don’t worry about the Robin part, kid,” said Mrs. Angelo as she walked me along. “He called the last girl Robin, too and her name was Sharon. Robin was two girls before that.”
“What happened to them? Did they move on to the city desk?”
She looked at me in surprise and then laughed. “You young girls are all the same. You come in here, fresh out of school, thinking you’re going to be the next Nellie Bly.” She shook her head. “I train you all, and what happens? You get disillusioned, get married, and then you quit.”
“That’s not my plan.” It wasn’t. I didn’t even have a boyfriend. And yes, I was going to be the next Nellie Bly.
After Mrs. Angelo assigned me to a desk, she called over to a voluptuous platinum blonde seated next to me. “Hey, M—M, finish taking Jordan here around. I have to get ready for a meeting. In the meantime”—Mrs. Angelo handed me a stack of forms—“fill these out when you have a chance.”
Mrs. Angelo went back to her desk across the room and M took over. She introduced herself as Madeline Miller but said everyone called her M. She was stylish, wore one of those new double-breasted shirtwaist dresses that accentuated her cone-shaped breasts. She was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties, and bore a striking resemblance to Marilyn Monroe. Judging by the penciled-in beauty mark on her cheek, I realized this was no accident. She also wore enough perfume to rival all the cigarette, cigar and pipe smoke in the room.
“Peter,” M called to a man a few desks over who was wearing a green eyeshade, “this is Jordan. She’s starting today on society news. Peter’s a crime reporter.”
Peter adjusted his visor and said, “Excellent,” only his voice had a squeaky-door quality to it, so it came out sounding more like, “Ehhhx-cellent.”
“And this is Randy,” said M, turning the other direction. “He’s one of the staff artists.”
Randy was a good-looking fellow with a long face and one of those dimples at the tip of his chin. I stole a peek at the editorial cartoon he was working on as I said hello, but he didn’t bother to respond. He didn’t even open his mouth other than to sing along with a jingle playing over his radio: “Winston tastes good like a”—BANG-BANG—he tapped his pencil to the desk—“cigarette should. . . .”
The floor began to shake and a rumbling came up from the bowels of the building. I watched the coffee in Randy’s cup ripple like a calm lake that someone had thrown a pebble into. The quaking seemed to coincide with Randy’s BANG-BANG but was completely unrelated. No one seemed concerned and that’s when I realized they were used to this. Of course. It was only the printing presses in the basement starting to roll.
M continued with the introductions, walking me to some nearby desks. Walter Harris was a pipe-smoking, fast-talking political reporter with a jet-black flattop who grunted a hello. He sat opposite Henry Oberlin, who stopped typing long enough to stuff a handful of Frosted Flakes in his mouth while an unattended cigarette smoldered in his ashtray. He had a ring of pale blond hair around an otherwise balding head. He gazed at me and mumbled what I took to be a “hey” and went back to his story.
With each introduction I felt a little smaller. It was clear that these new colleagues had no interest in who I was, where I came from or what I was there to do. They were also all men, and frankly, I was surprised that M had even bothered taking me around in the first place.
Although when she walked me over to the next desk, no introduction was needed. I recognized him right away. Marty Sinclair was a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist who had a weekly column and whose byline frequently appeared on page one. My father knew him, but I’d never met him before and I was rapt. To me Marty Sinclair was journalistic royalty. He was a brilliant reporter and an eloquent writer, and not all journalists could be both. I took a moment to observe the great master in action, how he kept his thick black glasses propped up on his forehead just above his eyebrows and gripped a pencil between his teeth as if it were an ear of corn. His necktie was tossed over his shoulder and his shirtsleeves were rolled halfway up his hairless arms. He dropped his glasses to the bridge of his nose and looked at M for a second before his eyes landed on me.
“Mr. Sinclair”—I reached out to shake his hand—“it’s an honor. I’m a huge fan.” My heartbeat pounded in my ears. I could hardly believe it. I’m meeting Marty Sinclair.
He removed the pencil from his mouth and studied my face. I thought I detected the hint of a smile thawing on his lips, and it thrilled me.
But before he could respond, Mr. Copeland, the city editor, shouted for him from the horseshoe. “Sinclair—over here!”
“Jesus Christ. What now?” Marty shook his head.
The spell between us was broken. He shoved himself away from his desk and went to the horseshoe to talk to Mr. Copeland and Mr. Ellsworth, the managing editor, who oversaw all the desks; the national, foreign, financial and city. I kept glancing back at the horseshoe. Marty’s arms were flailing. So were Mr. Ellsworth’s. Mr. Ellsworth was tall and lanky with a tidy beard and enough gray in his hair to suggest he’d paid his dues in the business. Marty Sinclair may have been the Tribune’s star reporter, but Mr. Ellsworth was the man behind the man. He controlled the center desk, and that was the heart and soul of the paper.
Mr. Ellsworth had interviewed me two weeks before. I assumed he’d been expecting a man, because he glanced at my résumé and said, “Jordan, huh?” When he ignored my clips, I knew he wasn’t interested in bringing a girl on to the city desk, especially one straight out of school. Didn’t matter that I’d been the deputy editor of the Daily Northwestern or that I’d graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the Medill School of Journalism. Less than five minutes into our meeting, he’d sent me over to Mr. Pearson. A couple of girls in the features department had recently gotten married and quit, so Mr. Pearson had agreed to give me a break, writing for society news. During my interview I had told him that I’d like to work on some other types of stories, too.
“I have some ideas for feature stories and—”
Mr. Pearson had given me a look at that stopped me mid-sentence. With his bristly brows knitted together, he said, “Society news. That’s the job, missy. Take it or leave it.”
I took it, having already been shot down for the city desk job at the Daily News and the Chicago American. The City News Bureau and the Sun-Times never called me back for a second interview. I knew what Eliot would say if he were still alive: Just get your foot in the door. You’ll work your way onto the city desk. And that was exactly what I intended to do.
Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Copeland were still going at it with Marty. I was dying to know what they were arguing about because I was curious by nature. Always asking too many questions, sticking my nose where it didn’t belong. My father used to say, “Curiosity is the curse of a good journalist.” He also used to say, “Keep your ears open. People love to tell their secrets.”
The last person M introduced me to was Benny, a young general assignment reporter, who was eighteen but looked about twelve. He had red hair and freckles and reminded me of Howdy Doody. Unlike the others, he was friendly, if not downright chatty. While I got situated at my desk and filled out the new-employee forms for Mrs. Angelo, Benny told me about his breakfast that morning.
“I had a double-yolk egg.” The look on his face said, I still can’t believe it. “That ever happen to you?”
“I don’t believe so. No.”
“You crack open an egg and there’s two yolks. I mean what are the odds? Like finding a four-leaf clover.”
“Aw, shut up over there with the yolks already,” said Walter.
But Benny kept going. “I think that’s gotta mean something, don’t you? Like today’s my lucky day or something.”
“It’ll be your lucky day if I don’t come over there and shut your trap. And yours, too,” Walter said to Randy, who was still singing the Winston jingle even though his radio was blasting Talent Scouts with Arthur Godfrey.
A few minutes later Marty came back to his desk, muttering, “Subpoena me, my ass. . . .” He opened his top drawer and slammed it shut, knocking over the pencil cup on top. “I’m not going to jail over this, either. My word is my word.”
“Hey, Marty,” said Walter. “You gonna burn your source or what?”
“Fuck off.” Marty shoved his typewriter stand with such force it capsized and crashed to the floor. I gasped as papers, pens and everything else went flying. Marty didn’t flinch. He stepped over the carnage, grabbed his hat and stormed out of the city room.
“Is he okay?” I asked, speaking through a splay of fingers.
“Who, Marty?” Peter lifted his green eyeshade off his brow and rubbed his temples. “Oh, yeah, sure. Yeah, he’s fine. Just been under a lot of pressure lately is all.”
“Give me a hand with this mess, will you?” M asked.
I scampered around to the side and helped her put Marty’s desk back together. Funny, but not one of the men bothered to break from their work. It was assumed that we women would do the cleaning up. Not that I minded. After all, it was Marty Sinclair’s desk.
I straightened up a fan of tricolored copy paper that recorded every word in triplicate. The top sheet was white—the original. The yellow page in the middle went to the editor, and the third sheet—the pink one—went to the copy editor.
“What was that all about?” I asked M, who was still down on all fours, reaching for the pencil holder that had rolled under Marty’s desk.
“Mr. Copeland and Mr. Ellsworth want him to reveal his source for some story that ran the other day.”
“Can they do that?” I’d always thought sources were protected, off-limits.
“Well, it looks like he might be subpoenaed. Turns out that the identity of his source is becoming quite a news story all by itself.”
I scooped up a handful of paper clips and stood up.
“Five bucks says he caves.” Walter snorted as he gripped his pipe with his back teeth, struck a match and sucked the flame into the bowl.
“I don’t know about that.” Randy tucked a pencil behind his ear. “You think he’ll give up his source?”
“Be a goddamn stupid move on his part.” Walter shook out the match and dropped it in a paper coffee cup.
“Nah,” said Peter. “I think you’re wrong.”
“Marty’s a stand-up guy,” said Henry, reaching into the cereal box for another handful of Frosted Flakes. “He won’t burn his source.”
“Five bucks,” said Walter, reaching into his wallet. “Who’s in?”
I was watching the betting go down when Mrs. Angelo came back to my desk and handed me a list of names. “I’ll have you start by verifying these.”
As I skimmed the list, my eyes landed on surnames like Preston and Vanderbilt, Crown and Rothschild.
“It’s the Mortimer wedding,” Mrs. Angelo explained. “That’s the bridal party. I need you to check the spellings and confirm middle initials, titles—that sort of thing.”
After Mrs. Angelo went back to her desk, M handed me the current copy of the Social Register.
“Here,” she said. “You’ll need this.”
I spent the next hour verifying fourteen-karat-gold names. There were a few stragglers—normal-sounding people—that I had to look up in the telephone book and call to confirm. Before I knew it, it was almost noon.
Mrs. Angelo came back and checked my progress, offering a nod of approval. “I’m going to lunch,” she said, giving her pocketbook a snap. “We can review the rest this afternoon.”
M eyed Mrs. Angelo through her compact mirror while touching up her lipstick. As soon as Mrs. Angelo cleared the main hallway and disappeared into an elevator, M dropped her lipstick and compact into her desk drawer and closed it with a hip bump. “I’m famished. C’mon, let’s go eat before she gets back.”
We ended up at the Woolworth’s counter in the basement of State and Randolph with Gabby Jones, a young woman who, like me, was in her early twenties. She had mousy brown hair and a nondescript face. She was one of those people who blended into any crowd. She was a fellow sob sister, as I learned the men called us female reporters.
“They think everything we write is sentimental and coated in sugar,” said M. She sat in between us and swerved her red stool from side to side as she spoke.
“But what about the women on the city desk?” I asked. “What do they call them?”
Gabby laughed with a big toothy smile. “There are no women on the city desk.”
“None?” I set my sandwich down. It felt like it was made of lead.
“There was Rita Fitzpatrick,” said M with a shrug. “But she’s the only one I can think of.”
I really wasn’t all that surprised. Others had warned me of this. Even my mother. “You’re a pretty girl,” she’d said. “They’ll take one look at you and think beauty and fashion. Not hard news.”
I wondered if I’d have to change my style. Now that I was a career girl, I’d cut my long dark ponytail and fringe bangs and went with the sophisticated Italian cut that Gina Lollobrigida and Sophia Loren were wearing. And then there were my new clothes, which I’d spent a fortune on. The sheath dress I was wearing cost me seventeen dollars, and that didn’t include the cropped white bolero jacket. I glanced at my handbag, black and white patent leather. It matched my Mary Janes. It occurred to me that if I wanted to get a real assignment, perhaps I would have to tone myself down.
I’d always known I’d have to prove myself. I wasn’t looking for a free ride. But I’d thought because I was Hank Walsh’s daughter, Eliot Walsh’s sister, they would have assumed I was a serious journalist. I supposed my first test would be showing them what I could do with charity balls and celebrity sightings. I wasn’t as confident that I’d be able to impress anyone with my recipes, which M just informed me I’d be expected to contribute for the food column.
“But doesn’t Mary Meade do all the recipes?” I asked, recalling the byline I’d seen over and over again.
“There is no ‘Mary Meade,’” said Gabby as the waitress slapped a check on the counter. “Somebody made up the byline, and we all take turns being her.”
“Oh, and don’t let Mrs. Angelo scare you,” said M as she draped her chiffon scarf over her hair. “She’s all bark and no bite.”
When we got back to the city room, Mrs. Angelo reviewed the bridal party names I’d confirmed. “Nice work,” she said. “Did I mention the Carrington wedding?” She jotted a few notes in the margin of my copy. “It’s this Saturday—you’ll be covering it.” She glanced over at Gabby and sighed deeply, letting her shoulders rise and fall. “Poor thing’s drowning over there. Why don’t you help her finish up tomorrow’s WCG column and the write-up for the TWT column.”
The WGC—White Collar Girl—column focused on stories for career-minded women, like secretaries and schoolteachers. And TWT—They Were There—was a daily column devoted to socialites and celebrity sightings about town. They both sounded a hell of a lot more exciting than spell-checking names and confirming hometowns.
Gabby was trying to finish her White Collar Girl column on “Gifts for Your Boss on His Birthday” and she welcomed my help. I could tell Gabby was the nervous type, the kind that got easily flustered. I noticed that whenever Mrs. Angelo walked by, she would instantly act guilty of some wrongdoing. Earlier in the day I watched her hang up on a telephone call mid-sentence and start blindly typing away, slapping at her carriage return.
She told me she was an identical twin and that when she wasn’t with her sister she felt like half a person. “People always referred to us as ‘the twins,’ never Abby and Gabby. Everyone always asks me how Nathan and the children are. I’m not even the married one. That’s Abby’s family. If you’re a twin, it’s like you’re invisible on your own. . . .”
I didn’t know what to say. I hardly knew her and here she was opening up like that.
Gradually Randy, Walter, Peter and the others began to trickle back in from lunch, and I could smell the martinis, the bourbons and beers. My father and brother had told me all about the newspaperman’s lunch. It sounded a lot more appealing than sitting at the Woolworth’s counter.
About an hour later Marty Sinclair came back to the city room, too. He chucked his hat and jacket on the coat stand in the corner and began churning out his afternoon story. I was still curious about his piece with the anonymous source but hadn’t had a chance to check his recent bylines. Instead I made excuses to walk by his desk, stealing glances over his shoulder. His workspace was littered with scraps of papers and napkins with scribbles on them. It looked like an overturned garbage can had landed on his desk.
I went back to my seat and finished the They Were There column for Gabby. She had instructed me to do a three-line write-up on Zsa Zsa Gábor and Grace Kelly, who had made the traditional celebrity visit to the Pump Room during their stopover in Chicago on their way from New York to California. There was also a mention about Jerry Lewis, who was performing at Chez Paree. All the while Randy absentmindedly continued humming that Winston jingle, which was now embedded in my brain, too. I was verifying the time of Grace Kelly’s arrival at the Ambassador East when Mr. Ellsworth stood up at the horseshoe and shouted to Marty.
“Sinclair—get over here! Now!”
Marty swore as he stormed off in Mr. Ellsworth’s direction.
With everyone back from lunch, the din of the city room had revved up to full volume. Given the noise emanating from the typewriters, the wire machines and telephones, it was amazing that one man would have captured everyone’s attention and rendered the room practically silent, but that’s what happened.
“Fuck you, Ellsworth. I won’t do it!” Marty tore back over to his desk, screaming, “Fuck you, you hear me? Did you hear that?”
“Be reasonable, Marty,” said Mr. Ellsworth, trailing after him.
“Fuck you all,” said Marty.
"Yeah, well, fuck you, too,” said Mr. Copeland. “This goddamned newspaper’s looking at a libel suit, thanks to you.”
I froze at my desk, watching the exchange. I couldn’t take my eyes off any of them.
“I won’t burn my source.” Marty was sweating profusely. I could see his shiny scalp through his thinning dark hair. “I’ll quit before I give up my source. I swear I will. I’ll walk.”
“That won’t get them off your back. Or mine,” said Mr. Ellsworth. “Now, maybe you don’t mind serving jail time, but I do. And you’re not taking this paper down with you. For God’s sake, we’re trying to help you here.”
“I don’t need your goddamn help.” He started banging things around on his desk.
“Marty, just hand over your source,” said Mr. Copeland.
“You know we’re going to find out who is it anyway,” said Mr. Ellsworth. “Christ, I’ll go through your goddamn notes myself if I have to.”
“The hell you will,” said Marty. “I’m getting my things and I’m getting the hell out of here.”
“Quick”—Mr. Copeland turned to Henry at the next desk—“his notes. Get his notes.”
“No!” Marty let out a shout that traveled to my inner ear and made me drop my pen. I watched in disbelief as Marty Sinclair—Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist—grabbed a fistful of notes off his desk and shoved them into his mouth.
“Holy crap!” Mr. Ellsworth pulled off his glasses as if his lenses were not to be trusted. “He’s eating his goddamn notes.”
“C’mon, now, Marty,” Mr. Copeland said, shaking his head. “Get ahold of yourself, for God’s sake.”
Marty’s eyes bulged as he shoved more wads of paper in his mouth. I’d never seen anything like it. Tears ran down his cheeks as he chewed and crammed the notes into his mouth.
“Marty, relax,” Mr. Ellsworth said. “Let’s talk about this.”
Mr. Ellsworth took a step toward Marty, who groaned and flung his coffee cup at him. An arc of brown liquid seemed suspended in the air for a beat before it sloshed down, barely missing Mr. Copeland and Mr. Ellsworth. The two men kept coming, and that’s when Marty really lost control. I shrieked as he threw his dictionary and his stapler, followed by the Rolodex and a radio. People ducked, taking cover under their desks, but I stood transfixed. Mr. Copeland and Mr. Ellsworth tried to rush him while Marty hurled telephone books and tape dispensers, paperweights, his chair, the trash can and anything else within reach. My pulse jumped each time Marty went for a new piece of ammo. When he hefted up the typewriter and hurled it at Mr. Copeland, Walter and Randy grabbed him from behind. I let out a loud gasp. Watching my journalistic hero kicking and screaming made my heart drop to my stomach.
It took four of them to restrain Marty, and eventually they had him on the ground, on his stomach, clawing and yelping like a wild animal. Walter was planted on his rear end, pinning down his arms while Randy had him by the legs. Peter and Henry were down on all fours, trying to make eye contact with him and get him to calm down, but Marty only screamed and cried, spitting out bits of chewed-up paper.
Ten minutes later the ambulance arrived. Mrs. Angelo, Gabby, M and I were all huddled in a cluster, and I winced when the medic knocked Marty out with an injection to the hip, driving a two-inch needle straight through his trousers. Within moments the fight had drained out of him, but my heart still hammered as I watched them strap Marty Sinclair onto a gurney and wheel him out of the city room.
“Okay, everyone.” Mr. Ellsworth cupped his hands, yelling into them like a megaphone. “Get back to work. The show’s over.”
After work that night M, Gabby and some of the others were going for drinks at Boul Mich at Grand and Michigan Avenue. No one extended an invitation to me, but Benny shot me a glance as he reached for his hat. “Aren’t you coming with?”
I was in no hurry to head home, so I grabbed my handbag, tucked a stack of newspapers under my arm for later reading and went to join them. After all, drinking was an industry tradition. I’d grown up knowing that. My mother kept a list tacked up on the kitchen wall with telephone numbers for Radio Grill, Riccardo’s, Twin Anchors, Mister Kelly’s and my father’s other favorite bars, along with the number for the doctor and the fire department.
By the time Benny and I arrived at Boul Mich, everyone else was huddled together at the bar, talking with Red Maupin, the bartender. Their ashtrays were already full and the nut bowls nearly empty.
Mr. Ellsworth was telling everyone about when he first met Marty Sinclair. “There was nothing that guy wouldn’t do to get a story. . . . He’d never let a little thing like ethics get in the way of him and a byline. . . .”
People listened, nodding as Mr. Ellsworth spoke. I could tell everyone was still bewildered over what had happened.
“Let’s face it,” said Henry, speaking to the group. “The guy was between a rock and a hard place. He tried to take on the Mob, for Christ’s sake.”
“Henrotin Hospital’s probably the safest place for him right now,” said Peter.
The others nodded.
Earlier that day, after Marty had been carted off and things had quieted down, I’d taken a few minutes to pull Marty’s story from the morgue. Apparently his source was a gangster, an underling to Anthony “Big Tony” Pilaggi, a lieutenant in the Chicago Outfit. Six months ago Pilaggi had been on trial for murder and got off after his mistress testified that he was with her at the time of the murder. There was some bad blood between Marty’s source and Big Tony, something to do with promises made and broken, so apparently he had gone to Marty and told him that Big Tony’s mistress fabricated the alibi. He knew this for a fact, because Pilaggi’s mistress had been with him the night of the murder. Marty reported the story, but had refused to reveal his source, so the information couldn’t be used in a court of law. That’s why he was under so much pressure now.
Walter banged his pipe against the ashtray on the bar, cutting into my thoughts. “If Marty gave up his source,” he said, “they probably could have put Big Tony away for life.”
“Yeah and Marty would be six feet under right now,” said Randy.
“Why Marty?” asked Benny.
“C’mon, think about it,” said Peter, giving Benny a light clip on the ear. “Marty’s source, whoever the hell the guy is—and let’s not get started on that guessing game. Could be any one of a hundred lugs out there gunning for Big Tony. But one thing we know is that whoever it was would have been a marked man for ratting out Big Tony. The source wouldn’t have been too happy with Marty about that, either. And then you got Big Tony, who would have put a hit on Marty for opening up the murder case again.”
“I still thought he’d cave,” said Walter.
“You’re crazy,” said Randy. “And if you ask me, Marty was crazy for dredging up Big Tony’s murder case again in the first place.”
“Yeah,” said Henry. “But you know Marty. He’s fearless when it comes to chasing down a scoop.”
“The real shame is that he tried to do a good thing,” said Benny. “Marty just wanted to get to the truth and expose the real story, and look where it got him.”
There was a lull in the conversation, and I pondered what Benny said. On one hand, as a reporter you have a responsibility to reveal the truth. But on the other hand, in doing so, you could wind up in jail, or worse—dead. If I’d been in Marty’s shoes, I didn’t know what I would have done.
“How long do you think he’ll be in the hospital?” asked M.
“Do you think they’re going to give him electric shock treatment?” asked Gabby. “I had a cousin once who had a nervous breakdown and they gave her electric shock. She was never quite right after that. She couldn’t remember to do things like turn off the stove or the faucet in the bathtub.”
“I wonder if he’ll come back to work,” said Peter.
Walter was ready with another wager. He bet five bucks that Marty wouldn’t. Henry said he would.
Mr. Ellsworth snapped and told them to knock it off. “Marty Sinclair’s one of the best goddamned reporters I’ve ever worked with. Even with a bolt of electricity shooting through his skull, he could still write circles around any of you.” He looked at Walter as he said this.
That resulted in another lull in the conversation, but thanks to Randy, I still had that Winston cigarette jingle playing inside my head. I couldn’t shake it, the words and melody looping through my mind.
Gradually the guys started talking again, changing the subject, going on about other things, more comfortable topics. It was almost seven thirty, and by then Benny, M, Gabby and some of the others had already left. No one was talking to me, so I finished my drink, collected my newspapers and said my good-byes. The men didn’t break from their conversation when I was leaving.
“See you all in the morning,” I said anyway, speaking to the air.
It was only Peter who looked over and said, “Ehhhx-cellent.”
I still lived at home with my parents’ in Old Town, and on a salary of sixty dollars a week it would be a while before I could afford a place of my own.
I took the shortcut and came up the back way, slipping through the fence. I walked up the pathway, aware of my mother’s missing flower beds. Normally by now her tulips and crocuses would be in bloom. But it had been two years since she’d planted any flowers. She’d lost her passion for gardening and had let her flowers perish after her son died. Since then my father had built the fallout shelter where the flower beds once stood. I drew closer and saw the shelter handle poking up from the grass. It was attached to something that looked like a garbage can lid. I’d been down in the shelter only once, and that was to help my father load it up with canned goods and powdered milk. It was dank and musty, but it could sleep three adults and even had a toilet. If the Russians were coming, my father would be ready.
I went around the pathway to the front of the house. The porch lights were on, guiding my way up the stairs. I was warm, perspiring from the walk home, and I noticed that the ink from the newspapers tucked beneath my arm had bled onto my jacket. I was hoping I hadn’t ruined it as I fished inside my handbag for the keys. Our house was an old Victorian Painted Lady, pale blue and gray with a dusty rose trim. It looked like a dollhouse, but there was a stark contrast between the outside and the inside.
It was dark when I entered the foyer except for the wedge of light coming from the living room, running a triangle across the hardwood floor. I smelled Lucky Strikes in the air and that faint musty scent that comes from a house filled with books. My parents were voracious readers and had long since run out of space on their shelves, so now the overflow was stacked on tables and on the floor in the hallway, teetering in piles that stood here and there, crooked spines three and four feet high.
In the distance I heard the tap, tap, clack, clack coming from my father’s typewriter in his office at the back of the house, off the kitchen. As I expected, my mother was in her chair in the living room. She had a book in her hand; another one spread facedown, hanging over the lace-doilied arm of her recliner. Dust motes swam in the light above her shoulder.
“You’re home,” she said, using her index finger to mark her place in the book. “How was it?” She reached for her glass, leaving a circle on the table that was already so blemished with water rings she no longer bothered with a coaster. She raised her nose toward the ceiling. “Do you smell that?”
“CeeCee,” my father called out from his office. “Something’s burning.”
She sprang out of her chair and sprinted through the swing door into the kitchen with me following closely behind. My mother wasn’t much of a cook, especially when she got absorbed in a book, so it was no surprise that three of the four pots on the stovetop were spitting and hissing, smoking away.
“Oh, would you look at this.” She shook her head, swatting at the smoke with a potholder.
“Did you hear me out there?” my father called again from behind his closed door. “Something’s burning.”
“I know, Hank. I know.”
I went to the window and opened it all the way. My father’s typewriter got going again.
My parents made for an interesting couple. The two of them were writers. Up until the time Eliot was killed, my father worked at the Daily News. Before that he’d been at the City News Bureau and then the Tribune for a brief stint. He knew Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Copeland and some of the others, including Marty Sinclair. Even though my father had been a hard-core newsman, he made no secret about wanting to be novelist.
After we lost Eliot, my father resigned from the paper to focus on his own writing. When the money got tight he wrote magazine pieces to keep the household afloat. Thankfully, my mother’s family had money, and I was aware of the checks that arrived every now and then and how my mother would get on the telephone, the cord coiled about her wrist. “Yes, we got it. It arrived today. . . . Yes, thank you. . . . What? No, he’s not here. You just missed him,” she’d say, looking at my father, who’d be looking everywhere else. “Yes, I’ll be sure and tell him you said so. . . .”
My father never did get along with my mother’s parents. And the fact that he wasn’t Jewish was the least of their problems with him. Hank Walsh was a rebel and an Irishman from Chicago to boot. Their CeeCee was a nice Jewish girl from the Upper West Side who was supposed to settle down in New York with a nice Jewish boy. They should have known better than to expect such obedience from their daughter.
While my mother tended to the stove, I made room at the kitchen table, moving a stack of books to the far end, where she used to sit back in the days when she bothered setting the table for dinner. I got down three plates and three glasses and a handful of silverware. I told my mother about lunch with M and Gabby and how we were labeled sob sisters. I was saving up the Marty Sinclair story for my father. That would give us something to talk about.
“Sob sisters, sheesh.” My mother shook her head. “Sounds like not much has changed since the days I was in the business.”
“Do you ever miss it? Do you ever regret leaving the City News Bureau?”
“Oh, heavens no,” she said, waving a dish towel above the stove, still trying to clear the rising smoke pooling up near the light fixture. “It was fun, exciting and all, but I never really wanted to be a reporter.”
“But you were good,” I said. I’d read her clips. They were impressive. “I think you would have been a really great journalist. You had an eye for detail. You knew how to turn a phrase.”
“Well, honey, that’s because I’m a poet.”
Her voice was tinged with pride, and I was surprised by her choice of tense. She hadn’t composed a poem since Eliot’s death. Now she was prone to spending an entire day in her reclining chair, reading, while letting the housework go to hell and occasionally dinner, too.
My mother cautiously lifted the lid, peering inside the pot to see what had survived. I watched her, thinking how much better she was with a pen than a spoon. Back in the days when she wrote, her poetry was brilliant and finely wrought. She taught in the writing department at Columbia College. A woman ahead of her time, she was known for her daring, risqué prose about sex, drugs and rebellion long before Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac came on the scene. Running around Greenwich Village as a teenager exposed her to a wild, untamed world, and her pen had captured and committed those experiences to paper. On a bookshelf in the other room were four volumes of poetry with her name embossed in gold on the spines. Three were published by Doubleday and the most recent one by Scribner. She was exacting about her words, and I’m not sure if my father was jealous or in awe. Maybe a little of both.
My mother liked to shock, and she reached and strained for every word. She was a perfectionist when it came to her work. I could remember finding her hunched over her writing desk, her head down, her face lined with angst because she couldn’t articulate a nuance, couldn’t pinpoint the essence. The very word she needed didn’t exist, hadn’t been conceived, and the inferior ones at her disposal would not cooperate.
“It’s killing me,” she had said one day.
“Why do you write if it’s so painful?” I’d asked. I was young. I didn’t get why she did it.
She had looked at me, her cheeks flushed. “Because I have to. I can’t not write.” She brushed a few stray hairs off her face with the back of her hand. “Even if no one ever published another word or paid me another dime for my poems, I’d still have to write them.”
So why not now? But I knew why she’d stopped writing. Even if she didn’t understand it herself. I knew. It was obvious to me that she was too afraid to write for fear that everything she’d been suppressing about Eliot’s death would coming rushing to the surface. And that terrified her. My brother’s death had put my mother and her poetry on pause. She read everything she could get her hands on but hadn’t written a word since Eliot died.
My father was the opposite. All he did was write. His writing and the need to write were ego-driven. He sought the kind of celebrated success his friend Hemingway had found. My father had written one novel, which had been published after he returned from covering World War II. It sold only about a hundred copies, and he’d been struggling ever since to write another one.
Hemingway had read my father’s first book but hadn’t liked it. I, however, thought it was exceptional. Among the Trees was an allegory about a boy raised in a forest by a family of trees. My father made the fatal mistake of showing Hemingway the first draft of his second book. Evidently Ernest had shredded it. Amazingly enough the two men remained friends after that. Even more surprising, my father, undeterred, started working on a third novel, although he hadn’t let anyone else read it—not even my mother.
Their current struggles aside, my parents were very much regarded as an intellectual, literary couple. I remember Eliot and me sitting at the top of the stairs, eavesdropping during their many dinner parties. Everyone who was anyone had sat at our dining room table: Nelson Algren, Simone de Beauvoir, Saul Bellow, Ben Hecht and Studs Terkel. Then there were the poets like Carl Sandburg, Delmore Schwartz and Karl Shapiro. Given that crowd, was it any surprise that my parents’ dinner parties often turned into drunken bashes that lasted till the wee hours? My brother and I would wake up the next morning to get ourselves ready for school, stepping over the empty whiskey bottles and an occasional guest on our way to the kitchen.
But that was years ago, and so much had changed since then. What happens to people after life takes its shots at them is heartbreaking.
The smoke cleared from the kitchen. My mother put a cigarette in her mouth and bent over to light it off the burner as my father came out of his office to fix himself a fresh drink. He was tall and lean with a jutting Adam’s apple and a crew cut. People said he looked like that actor whose name I could never remember, who always played the daft friend to the leading man. My brother and I both took after my mother. She was a dark-haired, blue-eyed beauty, and everyone said she was far too pretty for my father. I do believe that Hemingway had a thing for her, though she hadn’t returned his affections. She was more taken with Fitzgerald. Or with his talent, I should say. As far as I knew, she’d never met him, but oh how she loved his writing. For the longest time I thought I was named after Jordan Baker, who wasn’t an admirable or likeable character. But my mother assured me that I was named after her favorite uncle. When I complained that people thought I was a boy, my mother said she’d done that on purpose. She wanted me to have a powerful name, one that would open doors for me, not hold me back.
“CeeCee? What the hell was burning in here?” my father asked, lifting a lid, inspecting what was in the pot.
“What do you think was burning?” My mother drew a final puff from her cigarette before extinguishing it beneath the dripping faucet. “C’mon now, before it gets cold.”
We took our seats as my mother placed the smoking pot roast on the table. It was charred and looked like someone had dropped a bomb on it. Any part that wasn’t burned was full of gristle. She’d overcooked the green beans, too. Boiled the life out of them so that the color had faded to the shade of lima beans.
“What’s that on your jacket?” my father asked, pointing at me with his fork.
“Oh—” I twisted about in my chair, looking at the ink on the fabric, feeling ridiculously pleased that he noticed something about me, even if it was a flaw. “That’s just newsprint ink. Think it’ll come out?” He tended to respond well to questions. But this time he only mumbled in response, so I tried a different approach. “Guess what happened today.”
“I watched Marty Sinclair have a nervous breakdown.”
“Sinclair?” My father hiked up his eyebrows “No fooling. Really? That’s surprising.”
“It was awful. You should have seen it.”
“But he’s such a gifted reporter,” said my mother.
“What the hell happened to him?”
“They wanted him to—”
“Jesus Christ, CeeCee”—my father was staring at his pot roast—“is there a piece in there that doesn’t look like the bottom of a shoe?”
“Here”—my mother took a piece off her plate—“try this one. It’s not as well-done.” My mother turned to me. “Go on, now. About Marty Sinclair.”
“So anyway, the editors wanted him to reveal his source. But he refused because his source is in the Mob. They said he might get subpoenaed and then he—”
“Aw, Christ.” My father pushed his plate away. “How do you expect me to eat this? I can’t eat this.”
“Fine. Then don’t eat it. You know, you were right there in your office, Hank. You smelled it burning. Would it have killed you to get up, walk two feet and check the stove?”
My parents glowered at each other. There was a time when their behavior would have upset me, but sadly, I was used to this sort of thing now. They were sparring partners and seemed to take comfort in sniping at each other. It was familiar, and they never held on to the jabs. An insult here and there was a flesh wound compared to everything else they’d been through.
“Like I was saying,” I continued in an effort to diffuse their tussle, which was my job. The peacekeeper. I often worried about how they’d resolve their tiffs after I moved out. “So he had a nervous breakdown. Right in the city room. He started eating his notes. I mean he literally put wads of paper in his mouth and started chewing them.”
“Probably tasted a hell of a lot better than this.” My father dropped his fork and knife to the plate with a loud clank.
That’s when my mother got up and pulled his plate away from him.
“Hey—what are you doing? CeeCee—”
“You don’t want to eat it, then fine. Don’t eat it.” She stepped on the foot pedal of the wastebasket, and when the mouth flipped open, she dumped the whole thing. She came back to her seat, picked up her knife and fork and proceeded to saw through her pot roast.
“Did you ever give up a source, Dad?” I asked, hoping to distract him.
“Who me? Never. You never want to burn a source,” my father said, reaching for a dinner roll. “Your mother here—now, she’d burn just about everything else, but never a source,” he teased. This was his way of saying he forgave her for throwing out his burned dinner. “What the hell else is there to eat around here?”
My mother just shrugged and continued chewing, letting him know that he was on his own. She was going to eat every bite of meat on her plate even if it killed her. I labored through mine as well. I didn’t have much of an appetite but felt I owed it to my mother to suffer the roast along with her.
My father got up to fix himself another drink. “How’s Ellsworth and Copeland?” he asked.
“I guess okay. I didn’t really talk to them.”
“Ellsworth was a hell of a reporter. Christ, I remember when we started out together at the City News Bureau. A couple of punks was what we were. I covered my first story with him.” My father laughed.
“Sure, sure.” He laughed some more, enjoying his reverie. The scotch must have kicked in.
“What was the story, Dad? What were you two covering?”
He took a sip and studied the melting ice in his glass. “Ah, that was a long time ago.” He sat back down at the table. “Any of that tuna casserole left?”
“Help yourself.” My mother’s jaw was working back and forth on the meat.
My father wiped his mouth, tossed his napkin aside, and when my mother refused to look at him, he pushed back from the table. Without another word, he went into his study, shut the door and started clacking away on his typewriter.
My mother reached for her napkin and spit out whatever she was chewing on.
I couldn’t sleep that night. My mind was still back in the city room, my head full of typewriters plinking, telephones and news chatter. After an hour of staring at the ceiling and watching the headlights that shone through the parting of the drapes each time a car passed by, I got up for a glass of water.
There was a light on downstairs in the living room, casting a shadow that crept up the stairs and reached the tips of my toes. From the landing I saw my father in a chair, his chin resting on his chest, eyes closed, an empty glass in his hand. The radio was on low, tuned to Man on the Go. I recognized the murmuring voice of Alex Dreier.
I was reminded of all the nights, especially those first few months after Eliot was killed, when I helped my father to bed, all his weight leaning on me as we tackled the stairs. The next morning, miraculously, he’d be dressed, shaved and showered, without the slightest hint of a hangover. There seemed to be no consequence to his drinking and, therefore, no reason not to get drunk again that night and every night thereafter.
I knew I should have left him in his chair, left his neck to kink up, his shoulders to stiffen, his lower back to lock up, but I couldn’t have done that to him then any more than I could now. And silly me, somehow I thought he’d appreciate it.
I went over to his chair and jiggled his shoulder. “Dad? Dad—time to go to bed.”
He shifted with a start. “Jesus Christ, you scared the hell out of me.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”
“What are you doing sneaking around the house at this hour anyway? Christ, if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s someone sneaking up on you. . . .”
The booze made him angry, made him ready for a fight. “C’mon, Dad,” I said, tugging at his arm. “Time to go to bed.”
He pulled away from me. “Let me be, dammit.” There was such finality to his voice. I knew better than to challenge him then. I’d give him another twenty minutes or so and try again.
In the meantime I went back upstairs, and as I passed by the bedroom that had once belonged to Eliot, I had the strong urge to go inside. I wanted to plunk myself down on the foot of his bed and talk to him like I used to do.
Eliot was five years older and many, many years wiser than me. Sure, the two of us had our times, like any siblings, when we’d fought over silly things like hogging the bathroom or the telephone line. But at the end of the day, we were friends, confidants. I wanted to share my first day of work with him.
I was still standing in the hallway, remembering Eliot’s first day at the Sun-Times. It was 1948 and the Chicago Sun had recently acquired the Chicago Daily Times. When Eliot landed that job, you’d think he’d landed on the moon. My parents were that proud. I went with my mother to Dinkel’s Bakery up on Lincoln Avenue that day and picked out an enormous devil’s food cake for him. My father gave him a bottle of Cutty Sark with a red bow taped to the label, drooping like a wilted rose. We sat around the table that night listening to Eliot impersonating his city desk editor. My brother was a natural-born mimic, able to imitate just about anyone. I used to get so mad when he’d do me, slapping at his arms and begging him to stop exaggerating my laugh or the way I used to reach up and pat down my bangs. That night he was impersonating his boss, who apparently had a propensity for trying to stifle yawns and belches in mid-sentence. He had us laughing until tears oozed from our eyes. We always said if he hadn’t been a journalist, my brother would have made a great stand-up comic.
After his first day my parents started keeping a scrapbook, cutting out and pasting every one of Eliot’s stories that ran, no matter how small or insignificant. But Eliot’s pieces didn’t stay small for long. The Sun-Times recognized what they had in him and the promotions quickly followed. Eliot had started as a general assignment reporter, and by 1953 he was being groomed for the position of city desk editor.
At the time of his death Eliot was working on a big story, an exposé, and I always wondered if one had something to do with the other. He was hit near the subway station about nine o’clock on a Tuesday night—June 9, 1953. We got the call sometime after eleven. The police couldn’t tell us much. There were no eyewitnesses, only a man saying he heard tires squealing moments before he turned around and saw my brother down on the sidewalk. Eliot died less than an hour later, while in surgery.
After the shock wore off, I found myself questioning the police investigation, which seemed cursory at best. Why weren’t they looking for more witnesses? It was right by a subway stop—someone had to have seen something. Why hadn’t the police combed the area again, looking for evidence, maybe a stray hubcap or a piece of the grille? As far as I could see, the police weren’t doing anything to try to catch the guy.
I went from being numb to being outraged, thinking that my brother’s killer was going to get away with it. I wanted answers and justice. I wanted the police to delve deeper. I mentioned this to my father, thinking that a seasoned newspaperman, not to mention the victim’s father, would challenge the investigation. Instead he grew livid with me for even suggesting we raise concerns over how the police had handled it.
“Haven’t we been through enough? Leave it be, dammit.”
I could only suppose that the thought of investigating his son’s death was too much for him to deal with at that point. And ever since then I hadn’t been able to question the circumstances of Eliot’s death without starting a battle, especially with my father. But I knew I wouldn’t find any peace until the person who killed my brother was caught and prosecuted. I grew silent, as did my parents. We didn’t talk about Eliot’s death. We didn’t talk about Eliot. Hell, my father and I hardly talked about anything at all.
God, how I missed my brother.
Everything was so different now with him gone. It was as if everything we knew and trusted had been stripped away and we were starting from scratch. I felt lost. We all did as we struggled to reinvent our family, still trying to figure out how we were supposed to do something as simple as set the damn kitchen table. And what about holidays and birthdays? Who was going to go in on gifts with me now and help me pick out the perfect cards? It was the little things that left the biggest holes in my heart.
And it wasn’t that I’d just lost Eliot. I’d lost my parents, too. They were never the same afterward. Day by day I watched them withdrawing, and I felt abandoned, orphaned and lonely. Maybe I was jealous that no one had rallied around me for my first day at the Tribune—no cake, no bottle of scotch. No nothing. I shouldn’t have been surprised, though. My father told me a newspaper was no place for a woman to work. And that incensed me, which led to a host of other arguments. He did his best to discourage me from getting a job with the press, but at the end of the day, I was my father’s daughter, just as stubborn as he was.
Now that I’d been hired as a journalist, I felt compelled to finish what Eliot no longer could. I wanted to become the reporter that he was meant to be. I also wanted to be both daughter and son for my parents, convinced that if I could fill the void my brother left behind, I could bring my parents back. Back to me. Truly, in the end, it was a selfish endeavor. But that’s why I had my eye on the city desk.
I placed my hand on the glass doorknob and gave it a minute, drew a deep breath before stepping inside. Eliot had still been living at home when he died, saving his money for a trip to Europe that summer. Besides, he liked being here—it was a different home back then and my parents were the modern type. He could do anything in their house that he’d do on his own. He could smoke, drink, bring girls around—as long as they weren’t prostitutes. That was where my mother drew the line.
His room was just as he’d left it when he’d left this world, preserved like a shrine. It had been two years, and still my parents—especially my father—couldn’t bring themselves to clear out his things. The hint of a gray sweater still stuck out of the chest of drawers where he’d stuffed it inside. His shirts, trousers and suits hung like ghosts in the closet above the mass of shoes, a loafer with its heel smashed down in back, probably kicked off in a hurry. There were books and record albums that I would have loved to read and listen to that sat idle now, collecting dust. And then there was his typewriter, a brand-new IBM electric resting on the desk. It was green, the color of plastic toy soldiers, and I coveted it. I’d never seen anything like it, and when he turned it on it hummed as it rat-a-tat-tatted while he typed. He’d promised to give it to me when he got a new model. I never had the courage to ask my parents for it, but I wanted it. Oh, how I wanted it.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for White Collar Girl:
“White Collar Girl is an unforgettable novel about an ambitious woman’s struggle to break into the male dominated newspaper world of the 1950s.” Sara Gruen, New York Times Bestselling Author of Water for Elephants and At the Water's Edge
Praise for What the Lady Wants:
“Rosen skillfully charms, fascinates, frustrates, and moves her readers in this turn-of-the-century tale. Set on an epic historical stage, What the Lady Wants contains all of the hedonism, decadence, success, and tragedy of the great American novel.”— Erika Robuck, national bestselling author of The House of Hawthorne
“What the Lady Wants is a story that opens with the Great Chicago Fire and keeps on smoldering to the end. Rosen’s characters are finely drawn, and her love triangles are full of subtlety and sincerity. What the lady indeed wants may not be what you assume it to be!”—Suzanne Rindell, author of The Other Typist
Praise for Dollface:
“…more than your average gangster noir. Those interested in novels set in the 1920s and all things Gatsby will not be disappointed."—Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Renee Rosen has combined her daring and vivid imagination with the rich history of Prohibition-era Chicago.”—Karen Abbott, New York Times Bestselling author of Sin in the Second City
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
[ I received this book free from the author through GoodReads Giveaway . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising] " I knew then that you had the family curse. You're a reporter Jordan, and that's what we reporters do. We question. We probe. We go into those dark places that scare everyone else. They even scare us, but we still do it because we have to. We just have to."(382) "A reporter's job was to expose the truth, and that's exactly what I was going to do."(395) This book was a fairly accurate historical novel about how newspapers saw the world in the 50s through the 60s. When I first started reading it, I almost abandoned it, but I was glad I did return to reading it. I found myself alternately cheering on Jordan Walsh, one of the "sb sister" reporters you'd find in most city newsrooms at the time: the ones who wrote the "fluff and puff" pieces that supposidly kept the housewife readers interested. Jordan was hired in part, to do just that: to help write White Collar Girl and Who What Where, both historical actual columns of the time. Jordan bumps into stories and sources that move her up the "ladder" at the paper. Chicago/ Cook County was politically corrupt and it "trickled down" into most peoples' lives. It took the Jordans of the time to help break the spine of that monster, and I am glad that Renee Rosen took the time and effort to write this book, not only to refect history and the changing role of women, but to remind us how politics has [ not] changed in the past fifty years.
My first experience with Rene Rosen was her novel Dollface. I loved Dollface. I went back and forth between wanting to slap some sense into the main character and wanting to hug her, but ultimately came to admire her for her courage, resourcefulness and determination. This time around, I spent a lot more time in the "sense-slapping" category. The main character, Jordan Walsh is very well-developed. The side characters, true to the culture of the day, maintain the attitude that women have a place, and they should stay there. I found myself sad about Jordan because I kept waiting for her to find a balance between having a normal life with relationships, and friends, and sacrificing everything to try to climb one more rung toward the career of her dreams. I just ended up feeling dissatisfied with the payoff for all that she sacrificed on the way. Readers should know that while the book blurb seems to hint that the story is about Jordan getting her big break or THE big story when an inside source hands Jordan confidential information, that's not the case at all. The book doesn't play out like a movie - it feels more like a miniseries. It's like a collection of plots about Jordan, and they all contribute to her development as a character, but there just isn't the overarching plot line I'd hoped for. It really is more like a fictional biography.
In White Collar Girl, Renee Rosen brings to life the energy and excitement of the newsroom and lets you experience the thrill of chasing down a great story. With plenty of characters to love and hate, I enjoyed this story of a talented female journalist in 1955 who can’t get anyone to take her seriously.
Set in Chicago during the 50s era of big buildings, big politics and big politicians, “White Collar Girl” by Renee Rosen is the story of Jordan Walsh a twenty-something female journalist trying to bypass writing for the society pages to the heart of the Chicago Tribune, the City Desk. Issues so many simmer in this tale fraught with news room politics, corruption, insider leaks, dishonest leaders, female inequality and progress and the challenges faced when couples consider career, inter-marriage, and family without sacrifice. During the story there are deaths of family members, family breakdowns, first loves and finding oneself during the individuation process. Jordan juggles all of this while meeting deadlines, building relationships and advancing her career. It’s a great Chicago read packed with accurate, authentic detail. Readers will visit all the old news man haunts, landmarks, neighborhood spots while they stretch out at home in historic Old Town. Jordan, a strong main character doesn’t seek a happy ending in any traditional sense, but instead seeks a complex happiness that doesn’t manifest in marriage, house, children. “White Collar Girl” is truly honest fiction and it inspires me to remember to thank all the women who are still alive for their vision, persistence, and for climbing the climb for all women in herstory ahead.
Jordan Walsh is a woman in the midst of a man’s world. She is Renee Rosen’s star character in her latest work of fiction: White Collar Girl. Jordan Walsh has a tall order to fill. She comes from a family of reporters and wonders if she will manage to carry the baton forward as a revered reporter and add to the accomplishments of her family’s legacy. As she rides the elevator up to the buzz and chaos of the Chicago Tribune newsroom for her first day, her palms are sweaty and her thoughts scattered. Was she excited, nervous—or both? When the ding of the elevator doors snap her back to the moment, she realizes now or never has arrived. Her father had been a correspondent during World War II and prior to that, the Spanish Civil War—alongside Ernest Hemmingway of all people! Her mother was the daughter of a newspaperman during the war in Europe. Jordan’s brother, Eliot (named after her mother’s favorite poet, T.S. Eliot), had worked for the Tribune’s competitor: the Sun-Times. As she steps into the maze of desks with overflowing ashtrays and the staccato of typewriters, Jordan, receives her first dose of reality upon meeting with her supervisor. There will be no chasing down the bad guys for the proverbial ‘scoop.’ There will be no by-line on the front page. Rather, she will be the newest member of the ‘sob sisters’ and own (and know) her place. It is age-old and subliminally understood: men chase down the leads and write the sensational stories. Women write about fashion and recipes. This may have been the formula the Tribune presses had run on for many decades, but the Tribune never had a Jordan Walsh around to change up what was supposedly tried and true. Rosen takes the reader back to a time when women knew their place was in the home—rearing children and preparing dinner for their bread-winning man. The place is Chicago and the time is during the mobbed-up Daley years. Ms. Rosen paints a fascinating picture of what it must have been like to actually report the news versus today’s standards of ‘opinionating’ it. Her main character, Jordan Walsh, is a heroine personified in that she breaks the mold and blazes the trail; leaving ‘the little lady’ in her wake and introducing the fearless woman about to re-write the script. There is a tangible glory and electricity that surges in the way Rosen plays out the story with the backdrop of an iconic newspaper. Ms. Rosen creates connection by establishing scenes filled with great props be it overflowing ashtrays or the sound of the constant clickety clack of electric typewriters—all fueled with the momentum of reporters accurately capturing the almighty ‘scoop.’ Ms. Rosen resurrects the respectability of what it must have been like to report the news and do so without personal bias and political correctness and emphasizes the sacred covenant of protecting the source no matter what. Simply put, Ms. Rosen has nailed a terrific story that will surely have her audience throwing sparks given the speed they assume at the turn of each page. I’ve had the pleasure of reading former works written by Ms. Rosen and once again, she does not disappoint! Quill says: White Collar Girl may be fiction, but it sure pays homage to what it meant to report the news and do so honorably!
Being a woman journalist in the 1950’s means writing the society section. That is not where Jordan Walsh is going to settle for staying. Jordan is a woman that steps outside of the box and chases down leads that are not always appropriate for a woman to follow. Even when the men in the industry try to put her in her place and keep her in check she steps out and does what she thinks her brother would have done. I enjoyed that there was more to the story than Jordan just being a journalist. Her home life was just as intriguing to me. I could not imagine living through the hardship that she has. The fact that she lives in her brother’s shadow and gets no attention for her accomplishments from her mother or father makes me sad for her. She deserves to be recognized as the journalist she is working so hard to be, yet does not know how to get there. Her romantic life is just as interesting. The man she is dating is also a dating. At no point in the story did I like him. He was selfish, obnoxious, and just not very nice to Jordan. There was no support and he had no reason other than jealousy to not be proud of her accomplishments and supportive of her hard work. If you are looking for a romance book, this may not be what you are looking for. This is a book with romance in it, but it is truly a story of a woman in the 1950’s pushing the boundaries that women have been stuck in. Jordan is a woman who knows what she wants in life and realizes she doesn’t need a man to get her there.
Jordan Walsh comes from a family of notable journalists but their interest in the business has died with the loss of their son and Jordan’s brother who died in a hit and run accident. Their family has truly been broken by this loss; no one speaks about thoughts or feelings about Jordan’s brother and Jordan is practically invisible as far as attention goes. Now she’s finally getting a break and about to start a job as a journalist who writes about women’s issues in a column known as “White Collar Girl.” But Jordan has far greater aspirations than writing about how to dress, apply makeup, find a husband, etc. She wants to write solid investigative news and is willing to do anything to make that happen. But little is Jordan prepared for the consequences of her choices, both professionally and personally. Jordan begins to be fed information on political corruption for medical insurance fraud but instead of receiving accolades her notes are given to a male to write the copy on the story. The next time she scoops a huge story about more corruption that causes a severe accident, she plays it differently. Little by little we read about tension-riddled, dangerous events and situations in which Jordan becomes the investigator and the one who writes the story. The Chicago political machine run by Mayor Richard J. Daly and other supporters is rife with crooked politics. And some who consider Jordan friend are really the opposite which she will discover with intensely emotional chagrin. Romance unexpectedly arises for Jordan but is challenged by competition and familial problems of a fellow journalist working for a rival newspaper. Another friend who attempts to woo Jordan winds up in a precarious situation which he believes Jordan arranged; indeed she is accused of choosing betrayal and success in her job over a growing friendship and possibly more. Toward the end of the story, Jordan begins to investigate a story that might have to do with the death of her brother. By now her reputation precedes her and so few are ready to whisper secrets that may be catastrophic for professional and personal lives around the office. White Collar Girl is well-plotted historical fiction (1950s Chicago) that is thrilling to read in Rosen’s easy and well-researched story. The dangers seem vivid and the personal plights seem no less enjoyable, albeit somewhat contrived. The reader gets to know Jordan so well that one feels her joys and pain and is rooting for her through every challenge. It’s a rough road women traveled to obtain equal standing in journalism, as well as other careers, and Rosen depicts what it was in the early days of the struggle for equal treatment at work and respect. Her writing gets better and better! Wonderful story and highly recommended read!
I have very mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I enjoyed the story, but there were a few things that really diminished my reading experience. First the writing seemed too modern for a historical fiction piece. When I purchase/read a historical fiction novel, I expect that I will be transported back in time. While Jordan’s career and personal struggles were authentic to the period, I felt the author fell short in setting an authentic feel for it. There was a lot going on in this book. I understand the author’s need to show how Jordan’s career choices affected her personal life. There seemed to be several story lines and I felt the author did not do a good job of weaving the stories into a whole, cohesive unit. It made the story feel choppy and unfocused. On a positive note, I really thought the author nailed character development. I always enjoy a story featuring a strong woman who does what she thinks is right for her in spite of what convention says. Jordan was strong yet feminine. The other characters in the book were just as well developed and enhanced the story. I received an ARC of this book from Penguin’s First to Read in exchange for a fair and honest review.
I really liked this book. A book about a girl in the 1950's who wants to tread up the ladder to no woman's land and be a journalist. She takes a lot of knocks, abuse and harassment, but she is determined. This was another book that I just could not put down. Jordan wants so bad to be a journalist that she sometimes forgets that it could put her in life and death situations, but all she thinks about is the story. A good thing for her career and a bad thing for her social life. If you started early enough in business like I did, you will remember those days when it was hard to break the walls of the good ole' boys and the author has done a stupendous job of portraying just how hard it was in those days. The boys not only will not help Jordan, they hand their coffee cups over for a refill. Jordan has to find someway, somehow to stump those boys and get the stories first. They certainly are not going to hand them to her. Meanwhile, Jordan battles with herself. She doesn't think the hit and run death of her brother was an accident. But, the case is old, how can she prove he was murdered? This had everything you could want in a book and I just sped through it. As I said I just could not put it down. I was rooting for Jordan and all females as I read this book. While it is about equality, it is also about other issues of the time as well. It truly portrayed an excellent rendering of the late 1950's and early 1960's. You could feel the vibe, the clothing, the cars and the atmosphere. A truly well written book. Thanks Penguin/NAL and Net Galley for this free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I truly recommend this book! It was awesome!
*walkis in wearing a work out bra and basketball shorts* "Hi."