When Bob Garfield's debut novel "Bedfellows" first landed on my desk, I cringed. I cringed at the thought of another thinly disguised autobiography from adland. I cringed because I'd just gotten another rejection letter for a novel of my own and was therefore more than a little bitter.
I cringed because, as Bob's editor at Ad Age for years, I was going to have to read this thing regardless and I was really, really afraid that it was going to suck.
But, I'm happy to report, "Bedfellows" doesn't suck. In fact, it's a hell of a tale, sort of Goodfellas on giggle gas that kept me laughing at and with the characters for the entire ride -- which is no small feat.
This shouldn't have surprised me. Editing Bob over the years typically meant slapping a headline on some pristine copy that he'd fussed over in his home office so long that he'd missed deadline. That and, every once in a while, asking the very important question: "Are you sure you want to say this?" Bob cares about things like words and truth (his elite East Coast version at any rate) and craft such.
Then again, so do a lot of people -- and they can't write fiction worth a damn.
But anyone who's read Bob over the years and paid attention knows that he also cares about one other thing: the audience.
Yes, he's got some thoughts -- some themes and morals -- he wishes to impart in "Bedfellows," including what he really, really thinks about advertising. But these he keeps in check, focusing first and foremost on telling the story. And what a story it is .
Jack Schiavone is an ex-agency executive, run off of Madison Avenue because of some accounting irregularities (this may or may not sound familiar to certain folks in adland). Thus, he finds himself opening a Mr. Mattress store in the fictional neighborhood of Ebbets Beach, Brooklyn. This is not the Brooklyn of locavore restaurants, artisan pickles and handle-bar-mustachioed hipsters.
No, this is beachfront Brooklyn, old-school Brooklyn, where the mob still operates.
Or what's left of it. Mr. Mattress quickly finds himself face to face with one of the most incompetent mafia outfits on the face of the planet. The Donato Family (that name, too, may seem somewhat familiar to readers) is considered to be a "nice mob"; it's been years, in fact, since they've knee-capped anyone. Which means they're not exactly prepared when the Russians make a move on their turf. To reveal any more details would be to ruin the many surprises in this book.
And Bob's a master of the ludicrous detail. Perhaps that comes from watching too many ads over his lifetime. From family to Family, from Manhattan to Brooklyn, he layers in little touches that make the world pop. Hell, he's even got bits and pieces in there about using paid search to market mattresses. Oh, and lots and lots of wordplay, some of it of the groan-inducing sort. But as a fan of groan-inducing puns, I welcomed them all.
But, as someone once said, the story is the thing. And from start to finish, "Bedfellows" is a fun-filled page turner, a sort of Scorsese as slapstick. If you're looking for navel-gazing literary fiction, go elsewhere. If you're looking for a good time, grab a copy of "Bedfellows."
And if you don't want to read it for those reasons, maybe you can read it for another: to give the old Ad Reviewer a taste of his own medicine.