Newspaper columnist Di Ionno offers a multifaceted debut novel about a journalist at odds with whether to educate or exploit his audience.
In the last month of 1999, a young, unnamed reporter yearns to write the capstone clincher sure to close out the century with a bang. In a nursing home, he meets nonagenarian Fred Haines, a retired journalist who formerly covered the New Jersey beat and has enough secrets to make him the ideal subject for an article. The tale unfolds as the narrator reads Haines’ manuscript, a chronicle of his life. Haines tells the reporter about how he began his career as an idealistic young reporter but became a “tabloid guy” whose behavior and lack of ethics made him partly responsible for the proliferation of yellow journalism in the 1920s and ’30s. He compromised himself with stunts like snapping photos of murderer Ruth Brown Snyder’s electric chair execution and slandering influential rival newspaperman Walter Winchell, which ended up relegating him to writing flashy tabloid news pieces for the lowbrow Daily Mirror. On a routine assignment, Haines stumbled upon the biggest story of his career: the 1932 Lindbergh baby kidnapping, its gruesome aftermath and subsequent investigation, which affected his life and livelihood. Brilliantly interwoven throughout the novel are revelatory associations—between the sage old man and the inquisitive younger one—about how sensationalistic journalism continues to influence the industry today. Haines remarks that, as news people, “We spread the crimes and tragedies but ignore the better side of humanity.” Di Ionno’s love of his home state of New Jersey is evident not only through the nonfiction he’s published and his columns for the Star-Ledger, but in this first novel which impressively merges fact and fiction into a resonant story of morality and meaning.
A creative double-edged, historically inspired debut.