There was, Blow writes, "one question none of us wanted to ask: Were readers buying George because they liked the magazine or to get a glimpse of John?" Let me answer that question: to get a glimpse of John. George wasn't much different from O or Rosie, and its brief life was destined to end when its editor's did. But thanks to Blow's diary-keeping, history will not be denied a record of nearly every staffer's outfit on the first day of a George editorial retreat, an event chronicled as if it were the Dumbarton Oaks conference.
American Son is not so much a book as a TV-movie proposal. Its author is quite candid about its adaptive possibilities, and he has helped potential producers by eschewing the more subtle constructions of prose memoir in favor of what appears to be a ready-made "treatment." The scene openers are all in place—for example, Blow nervously checking the time before he escorts Kennedy to an interview with the president of the NRA ("Damn it, I thought, we're going to miss this flight"). The closers are here too, as in this last line of the job-offer scene: "I thought about it for four or five seconds. 'When do I start?'" The white space that follows on the printed page will soon become a Doritos commercial.
Blow includes a strategic amount of foreshadowing ("I took the train to Connecticut to spend Christmas with my family. John traveled to Vero Beach, Florida, to commence flying lessons") in addition to notes for the costumer ("a dark blue tie and a white pocket square, an accoutrement he always wore on important occasions"). The prevailing tone is that of non-premium cable TV: the Lifetime network ("triumphs and tragedies") with an AMC dash of Frank Capra. "So what if we didn't have the insiders and the elites on our side?" Blow writes. "We had the people—or at least a lot of them." Blow even does what he can to pump some drama into the establishing shots ("Hachette's building, an ominous black and silver skyscraper ...").
The TV movie will work better than the book, because, except in the implausibly reconstructed dialogue, it will lack the print version's off-key, malaprop prose. This is a book in which confetti can bounce, monarchs become "monarchists," and metaphor is a kind of extreme sport: "We would need our strength because John was entering a year of intense and painful self-examination and he would pull us along with him, like a whaleboat crew tethered to a harpooned animal, bouncing along the choppy ocean toward the endless horizon." Attempts at aphorism only make things worse: "In New York City, you can always see celebrities, but you can never see stars."
Blow would like us to believe that when he took the job at George, he "wasn't that interested in celebrities." But he also tells us that the "high-powered real estate agent" who found him his New York apartment would one day "help Bill and Hillary Clinton buy a house in Chappaqua." And in recounting the night he and his girlfriend found themselves caught between JFK Jr. and the paparazzi, Blow winds up telling a story quite different from the one he intended.
Nyssa and I stood frozen, not knowing what to do but not wanting to abandon John. I instinctively grabbed Nyssa's hand, then, torn between protecting her and defending John, let go and tried to block the photographers.
The incident reveals a man who is above all desperate to get into the picture. (Nyssa eventually dumped him, and he went on to date a woman who had worked at, yes, Calvin Klein.)