Martin Bauman: Or, a Sure Thing

David Leavitt, Author
David Leavitt, Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-395-90243-1
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The literary life is given a sound drubbing in this comedy of egos and coming-of-age tale by Leavitt (The Page Turner; While England Sleeps) set in the 1980s of Reaganomics and the dawn of AIDS. Always ""ready to pounce on a sure thing,"" as a classmate describes him, ambitious, gay Martin Bauman, part calculating and part ingenuous, decides in college that he will be a successful novelist and sets out with considerable luck and adroitness to achieve his goal in the New York literary world. Along the way, he meets up with a veritable catalogue of young urban literary types, most notably Liza, a self-centered young novelist who can't decide if she's gay or straight, and Liza's wealthy, dilettantish best friend, Eli, another writer and Martin's primary love interest. The vagaries of Martin's personal relationships, however, are fairly commonplace, much less entertaining than his turbulent professional ascent. Readers hip to the New York book biz will be tickled throughout by Leavitt's thinly veiled satiric references to various literary institutions. In his unnamed eastern urban college, Martin studies under Stanley Flint, a writer, editor and teacher whose eccentricities, power and drive make him a ringer for famed maverick editor Gordon Lish. While still an undergraduate, Martin is lucky enough to publish a story in an unnamed prestigious weekly magazine, probably the New Yorker. After graduation, Martin works for a venerable independent publisher whose adherence to intellectual standards in the face of financial troubles should be easy for readers to identify. Packed with gossipy detail and yet curiously detached in tone, the novel seems part sociological excavation, part intellectual soap opera. Though Martin inflicts at least as much damage as he suffers himself, he is an appealing antihero, inhabiting as he does a world where, as Leavitt eloquently and searingly demonstrates, there is no such thing as a ""sure thing."" 10-city author tour. (Sept.)
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