Best-Sellers & Brown-Baggers

It is tempting to say that Mary Bringle's Hacks at Lunch was written by a hack—at lunch or otherwise engaged. But so laconic a pronouncement would leave the reviewer open to charges of disingenuousness and flippancy; and, since some such judgment cannot be substantively avoided, it must be elucidated and qualified.

The premise of this "novel of the literary life," as Miss Bringle's book is subtitled, is that "hacks" (i.e., "professional writers" who produce, usually pseudonymously, pulp novels of mystery, romance, and adventure) deserve our pity because they cannot belong to that other world, at once glamorous and serious, where authors sign their books with their real names and get reviewed by the New York Times. As may be expected. Miss Bringle's method echoes Hugo's Les Miserables, and as the personalities, or souls, of the four "hacks" in her tale are revealed through their lunchtime words and thoughts, the author wishes to lead us through pity to pathos.

It is not to be. Miss Bringle's pathos is false because the magical, highbrow world in which her subjects want to partake is her own dream as well. Its goodness is axiomatic; and literature, like life, abhors the axiom (as did Hugo, for that matter). We do not pity the "hacks," whose "literary life" the subtitle mocks, so much as the author, whose literary...

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