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Cold Type

New Jersey Star Ledger

“The phone rang on a Saturday morning and I was muzzy from a night that was a blur of bravado, Scotch and fear. The newspaper where I was working was leaning toward a strike; the one at which my husband worked just authorized one.

The call was from the New York Daily News, offering me a job for more money and the chance to return home. I learned to read from that paper, even using "nabbed" in a second-grade composition. But there was a huge catch: I would have to cross a picket line.

The idea of a blue-collar kid crossing a picket line to write for the paper that was supposed to be the voice of the workers was absurd. I wiped my tears, went on and wondered about being inside that strike.
Harvey Araton, of Montclair, does an excellent job of telling one reporter’s story during that strike in this novel, which encompasses the lure of newspapers and the dynamics of complicated family relationships. Araton, a sports writer for the New York Times and formerly of the News, also does a fine job of explaining the moribund days of once-mighty unions that ran papers.

The story unfolds at the Trib, where Jamie is our hero, albeit an unlikely one. He’s smart, but not as smart or daring as his cousin, Steven, to whom he’s always been compared. Jamie’s dad, Morris, works at the paper and is a union boss. Morris’ brother, Lou, also works there; both of them are backshop guys. Steven is Lou’s son, the family star, a columnist.

Jamie has a failed marriage, a toddler son, a career not showing much promise, a negligible bank account and a frayed relationship with his father. He’s also clueless, though genuine, as he stumbles through life.

Araton is particularly adept at describing newsroom types such as Blaine, the paper’s longtime columnist:

‘He scratched a wide landing strip of a nose containing more colored lines than the city transit map.’

Jamie has no choice but to strike. As the son of a union boss and working for this paper, anything less would be a high crime. Yet Jamie does not have the conviction. Maybe he lacks the drive to be on papers, or maybe he’s just so shell-shocked over what his life has become.

His estranged wife forced him a move to a suburb they could barely afford. Worse, he had to leave his beloved Brooklyn. Jamie, a Jewish boy who relished his days of being good enough to shoot hoops with the black kids in the projects, never belonged in the suburbs. His wife makes him pay for missing the birth of their son, though the baby was born early and Jamie was on a story, unaware. As soon as he found out, he raced to the hospital, but it was too late — for the birth and the marriage.

When the strike starts, Jamie goes out, but his heart is never in it. In a dramatic scene, which winds up on the local cable station and on the paper’s front page, Jamie confronts his father and crosses the picket line, but not before his father decks him.

Araton perfectly captures the painful struggle of newspapers, as the digital age looms.

In this scene, unfolding Nov. 9, 1994, Gerry, the blustery union boss of the drivers, meets with his lawyer, Schmoo, as they talk about the new owner, Brady.

‘Schmoo, I never even heard of this internet until a couple of months ago and I don’t know what the hell you are talking about. People paying their subscription bills by computer? What the hell does that have to do with what we’re doing, with getting that bastard Brady to give us a fair shake?’

‘It has everything to do with you, Gerry. Everything. I’d bet a year’s salary that they’re already planning to make the same s**t you deliver every day available on the computer. Because sooner or later, probably sooner with the way the technology is going, these people will figure out how much cheaper it will be to not have to cut down trees and pay for the newsprint or run printing presses or finance a fleet of trucks and drivers to produce a newspaper that can be delivered right into the home with the press of a button.’

That strike and the others, ultimately, couldn’t pack the punch they once would have. Still, I never could have been a scab. I’ve since raised more glasses at more wakes for closing papers than I want to think about. Like Jamie, I’m not sure what’s next. Given the ending of this fine novel, I hope Araton revisits Jamie and lets us know where he winds up.”
- Jacqueline Cutler , August 17, 2014  Visit Website

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