It is our parents’ sensibility and character that is most often the overlooked legacy we are handed down quietly, almost as if by osmosis. Taking notice of that legacy as it manifests itself in our own actions can offer moments of life-altering meditation.
As he was making his way in the world of journalism, now veteran New York Times columnist and sports reporter Harvey Araton crossed a picket line for one day during the Daily News strike of the early ‘90s. He had some difficulties reconciling this brief action. “It was always sort of in the back of my mind what my father would have said had he’d known that I had done that. Would I have had the courage to have done that with him being alive,” Araton says. It was that brief transgression that became part of the foundation for Araton’s fiction debut that has been over 20 years in the making, Cold Type.
Araton grapples in the novel with a father and son’s strained relationship amid the backdrop of a rapidly shifting newspaper industry in mid-nineties New York City. Jamie Kramer is a struggling reporter for the Trib. His father, Morris Kramer, is a typographer and union chief. Jamie’s uncle works in the same shop as his father and his cousin is a lauded columnist at the paper. Working for the paper is a family affair; breaking with union sympathies could be paramount to treason in the Kramer clan.
Cold Type is a family drama, an intricate and layered story. Its nuanced conflicts and the tribulations of its characters loosely emulate an intense period in Araton’s life during the Daily News strike when he just had his first child and his father passed within a five-month span. “It was very liberating to just take the bones of a story, but then create characters from let’s say multiple people that I knew growing up or from my own experiences,” Araton says, “but creating a twist on them to the way, perhaps, that I would have preferred things to work out in my own life.”
Before the Daily News strike, Araton had been involved in at least three different strikes but none carried the gravity of the Daily News debacle. At this point in his career he had just been promoted from reporter to columnist and was given the heads-up by his editor that Araton was his guy, but the paper was moving forward with or without him. “And so I kind of panicked and went in the next day,” he says. Years later Pete Hamill was doing a piece for Vanity Fair on the strike and he phoned Araton to get his take. “I think my line was something like, ‘Well, I was really scared on strike but I crossed the line and I got really sick, physically.’ I said, ‘I can live with fear, but I can’t live with being sick,’ ” Araton recalls. This visceral reaction is reflected in Araton’s strained protagonist, Jaime.
“Cold type,” or phototypesetting, refers to the process in which the printed word appears on the page, a development that made “hot type” (metal type) obsolete. Araton explains that “the conversion from ‘hot type’ to ‘cold type’ was a momentous change in the production of a newspaper but also caused tremendous fear and loathing in the lives of all these men,” men like Morris who had the world pulled from beneath their feet. Cold Type parallels this significant shift by exploring the early, looming presence of the internet.
Cold Type is set two decades in the past but some of the same problems that confronted the newspaper industry then still linger today. Araton is optimistic, though: “Currently, people are feeling better about the fact that with the advancement of the smartphone and with iPads and e-readers that all of the things that newspaper folks would have said 25 years ago, ‘hey if we can figure out a way to sort of replicate the newspaper, but in a digital way or in an electronic way that would be great,’ and now they’re all here,” he says. Araton also indicates that “at some point, I would suspect that the printed newspaper will be kind of nostalgic.”
Cold Type is Araton’s seventh book but first foray into fiction. While Cold Type was brewing, he published six other books. He is proud of the fact that he kept coming back to it over the years; “it felt a little bit like a calling,” he says.
Evan Rodriguez is a freelance writer living in Central Texas. You can follow him on Twitter.