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SLAB RAT by Ted Heller


by Ted Heller

Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 2000
ISBN: 0-684-86496-7
Publisher: Scribner

Every generation needs its What Makes Sammy Run, its Floater, its tale of a young man trying to make it in the glamour biz of the moment. Heller’s hilarious first novel is that book for the 1990s, perhaps the most media-centric age to date. A glib self-promoter who invents a swanky continental background to hide his middle-class, outer-borough upbringing, Zachary Post is a rising editor at a glossy Manhattan magazine company called Versailles Publishing. Versailles—oh, let’s call it by its real name: CondÇ Nast—employs only tall, skinny, black-clad women (preferably English, or at least Euro schooled), publishes a group of virtually indistinguishable magazines called She, Her, and It, and lives for the buzz created by its backbiting, press-courting, power-lunching staff. Zachary’s lunches are going pretty well at Versailles until an even more ambitious—and decidedly less likable—editor, Mark Larkin, becomes his boss; suddenly Zachary’s stock falls with both management and the British-born editor (with a hyphenated name, natch) he’s been lusting after professionally as well as sexually. As Zachary bids to solidify his position at Versailles via a wonderfully funny series of adventures—a scheme to blackmail Mark with a supposedly incriminating audiotape; a trip to England to wow his putative girlfriend’s parents—Heller shows himself a brilliant social satirist not just of the magazine business but of human nature. What elevates this debut above the merely mean (and it is that, deliciously) is that Heller (a veteran of Vanity Fair, Details, Premiere, and Spy) has a heart and shows it, most notably in his depiction of a colleague driven mad by the competitive atmosphere. This character is just a slightly less hardy version of Zachary himself, and it’s clear that Zachary and Heller are grateful they—ve escaped his fate. A delightful, smart, twisted commentary on ambition, careerism, love, and modern life by the most likely newcomer since Nick Hornby to make you laugh out loud on a bus.