Part satire, part fantasy and unabashed in its affection for the world of traditional publishing, Farrar, Straus & Giroux president and publisher Jonathan Galassi's first novel, Muse, is a captivating roman à clef, written with the insight and wit of a true insider. An accomplished poet, Galassi (Left-Handed) effectively deploys both his knowledge of that art form and of the business of producing books in this clever story.

From its seedy offices on Union Square to the outsized personality of its founder, Homer Stern, the "scrappy but consequential" publishing house Purcell & Stern is a clear proxy for FSG, where Galassi has worked for the last 30 years, and its iconic leader, the late Roger Straus. Homer, a scion of the German-Jewish aristocracy, has spent his career locked in professional combat with Sterling Wainwright, owner of Impetus Editions and a certified member of the WASP establishment.

Whether it's a trip to the Frankfurt Book Fair ("carnivorousness at its most rapacious, with a genteel European veneer") or a dinner with the founder of an Amazon-like e-tailer, aptly named Medusa, Galassi delivers realistic glimpses of pressures that loom over the traditional book business today. Equally pleasurable are his flights of fancy: a world where first editions of poetry books sell 750,000 copies and where the death of a beloved poet spurs the president to declare a national holiday.

For all the wistfulness of its backward-looking glance, Muse is anything but a nostalgia trip. Instead, this gentle, wry novel should reinforce the belief of anyone who loves books that the survival of the world Jonathan Galassi portrays is worth fighting for. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

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