Little Pink Slips
This novel was like a time machine, whooshing me back 10 years, when I was still an executive editor. Do I know women's magazines? You bet --- more than 20 years' worth. Does Sally Koslow (with whom --- full disclosure --- I'm acquainted)? Yes, indeed. A former editor-in-chief of McCall's, she has parlayed her experience into a most entertaining DEVIL WEARS PRADA-style novel.
The real-life counterpart here, though, isn't the world of Vogue and other high-end fashion titles but the Rosie contretemps of 2000-2003. In an attempt to imitate Oprah's magazine success, the publishers of McCall's --- here called Lady --- formed a partnership with Rosie O'Donnell to turn a rather traditional women's publication into a celebrity-driven blockbuster. (Although Koslow didn't work directly with O'Donnell, she knew a lot of people who did, and she seems to have a firm grasp on all the juicy details.) The venture didn't work, to put it mildly; O'Donnell left the magazine and the publishers sued her for breach of contract. In LITTLE PINK SLIPS, as in the actual trial, the judge dismissed the case, awarding damages to neither party.
There's an autobiographical element as well: The lead character, Lady editor-in-chief Magnolia Gold, is, like Koslow, a nice Jewish girl from Fargo, North Dakota, who migrates to New York, New York. Magnolia is instantly likable: smart, ambitious, crazy about her work, and insecure in a way most of us will recognize ("Any minute now, she'd be exposed as the cubic zirconia she truly believed she was"). As the story begins, Magnolia has brought Lady back from the circulation doldrums and is pitching a re-design for the magazine. Instead, she is demoted by the demonic, sexual-harassment-prone CEO, Jock Flanagan, to make way for Bebe Blake, a raunchy diva who is Koslow's Rosie clone. Misery!
But Magnolia survives (you never doubt that she will), and she and her best friend, jewelry designer Abbey Kennedy, go in for plenty of romance, sex, shopping and jogging along the way. Magnolia --- who, like most Chick Lit heroines (think Bridget Jones, who started it all), is romantically challenged --- even returns to Fargo on a speech-making junket and has a fling of sorts with her high-school ex, now a minister. Kinky!
It doesn't take long for Bebe to do a thorough job of making her eponymous monthly a disaster area and for Magnolia, briefly relegated to the dingy backwaters of corporate life, to rise again. Koslow really nails the industry's pungent combination of gossip and glamour, daily grind and daily manicures, polished looks and (sometimes) mean little hearts. (Reader, I identified.) It all ends more or less well --- I especially appreciate the way Koslow avoids the conventional happy-ever-after. Far from having Magnolia forfeit her professional success for the sake of a guy, in this book work consistently trumps love. (When Abbey asks Magnolia to make a birthday wish, she thinks: "A better man? A better job? Both, definitely, but not in that order.")
I do have some caveats: Since Magnolia evinces such enthusiasm for the nuts-and-bolts and camaraderie of her job (the book brought back some happy memories as well), I might have wished that there was a little more actual editing in LITTLE PINK SLIPS --- of the pencil-to-paper, think-up-a-great-cover-line, deal-with-an-ornery-author variety. And I wouldn't have minded the characters being a bit less from Central Casting: the bitch, the kook, the cad, and so forth. Still, in the show-biz world of high-end publishing, sometimes personalities are larger than life --- when you consider that Rosie O'Donnell has once again made headlines by leaving "The View" under highly contentious circumstances, perhaps Koslow's portrait is not so unrealistic after all.
Besides, LITTLE PINK SLIPS, while not great literature (the brand names do get awfully thick on the ground), is great fun. Koslow, bless her, knows she isn't writing THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, and there is a welcome absence of pretension in the way she goes about her business (I actually prefer her to the trying-too-hard-to-be-clever Plum Sykes). Many Chick Lit novels are so exhaustingly snarky that you wind up not caring what happens to the characters. Although Koslow can be witty ("Magnolia adjusted her face to a few notches above blasé but comfortably below bootlicking"), her tone never gets too brittle: Underneath the smart-aleckisms is a welcome optimism and honesty. And the pacing is great.
Think of LITTLE PINK SLIPS as lingerie in book form --- frivolous but irresistible --- and you won't be sorry you brought it home.
Reviewed by Kathy Weissman on April 20, 2014
Little Pink Slips
- Publication Date: May 6, 2008
- Genres: Fiction
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Berkley Trade
- ISBN-10: 0425221318
- ISBN-13: 9780425221310