A sharply observed coming-of-age memoir about an aspiring writer’s entry-level job at a fading literary agency.
Though Rakoff earned acclaim for her debut novel (A Fortunate Age, 2009), her memoir is more engaging, particularly for its mastery of tone. The author establishes herself as something of an innocent, a master’s grad who wanted to write poetry but required a job to tide her over. She found one at an unnamed literary agency that continued to operate with typewriters and fax machines and where her boss’s main responsibility was the nonbusiness of J.D. Salinger. It would be easy for a satiric hipster to have satirical fun with the material—particularly with the onslaught of letters from generations of Salinger fans who actually expected (or even demanded) a response—but Rakoff isn’t that sort of author. She reserves just the slightest bit of judgmental irony for herself and for her boyfriend, a socialist, boxer and aspiring novelist. Her family recognized that she was a glorified secretary at a menial job that would bring her no closer to fulfilling her literary ambitions and didn’t provide her with sufficient salary to pay her bills. Against her boss's admonitions, she developed something of a telephone relationship with Salinger (whom she’d never read before taking the job), finding him “never anything but kind and patient. More so than plenty of people who called the Agency. More so than plenty of his fans.” Eventually, Rakoff fell in love with his books, established correspondence with some who wrote him (and learned why a form letter was previously the standard response), assumed more responsibility as a manuscript reader and something of an agent herself, and left the agency as a published poet.
Many of the mysteries of the literary world remain mysteries to the author, but she provides good company as she explores them.