The Biz (in one sentence)
              Fiction by M. Thomas Gammarino

      Start with an author, an author whose recently finished novel represents
three years of treacherous plodding and searing expurgation, personal exorcism,
and a thousand dark nights of the soul, and now imagine that this author sends
out query letters to five agents—three who never request her manuscript because
of two foreboding grammatical faults in her letter, one who requests the MS but
doesn’t even make it through the first chapter which strikes him as trite and
unexceptional, and one who finds the writing flat but seizes on the writer’s
apparent expertise in the art of borscht-making (the novel’s opening scene is set
at a roadside borscht stand just outside Petrograd) because it just so happens
that this agent has had a borscht book on the back burner for some years now,
so she decides to query the writer back and see if she might consider doing a
borscht book, and frankly the author is a little taken aback but not wholly
unexcited about the opportunity, seeing as how the borscht book would permit
her to wed her two great passions—borscht and writing—so she writes the
book, which doesn’t take her a month, and the agent makes a few small changes
and together they come up with a title (
The Borscht Book) and the agent calls up
all her first-line cookbook editors and propositions them for lunch, and the very
first to see it, a woman by the name of Sallye (sic) who works for what
employees like to say is the largest cookbook publisher in the world but which
everyone in the industry knows is a bold-faced lie, and it just so happens that
Sallye has also been nursing hopes of a borscht book for years and she buys it
right there on the spot, alfresco, because this book fits so tidily on her list and is
a great opportunity for advancement and advancement means money and what
with Rick getting laid off and the kids rushing headlong into college, and the
very next day she presents the book at pub board, ex post facto, and luckily
everyone’s ecstatic because this is a book with real potential and it may be just
the kind of injection the company needs to widen profit margins which are pitiful
for the third year running due to terrorism and the Internet and the big
conglomerates swelling towards monopoly every year, and the next day, as it
turns out, Sallye gets the official green light and she looks through the book and
types up a Title Information sheet and solicits some quotes from the Iron Chef
and some Russian guy and while she’s doing all that she makes a copy of the MS
and passes it on to the production cats, who are thinking binding and front matter
and font, and tucking in this to accommodate that, and casting-off and damning
rivers, and meanwhile the publicity folks have gotten a copy of the MS and the
TI sheet and they’re busy booking Montel and plastering phone booths with
incomplete borscht recipes (incomplete because you’ll just have to buy the
book, won’t you?) and the sales guys are out there pitching
The Borscht Book
to potential buyers, holding up galleys beside their grins, because they might just
get that new addition finished if this thing nets enough and yes they know there’s
another borscht book out there, but come on, it’s from 1982 and costs 27.95,
and this new book is a paperback with a price-point of only 14.95, you do the
math, and since it’s largely a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy they’re being real
chummy with these buyers, giving them borscht t-shirts and mugs, and they’re
promising book jackets as soon as they’re ready, which over in the art
department they just about are, but Mitch isn’t sure the font’s quite right yet,
though the clock is ticking and he’s aware of it, but maybe if he put the “B” just
over the sour cream it would stand out a little more, meanwhile the author’s
getting kind of nervous as the publication date approaches and she’s doing
absentminded things lately like putting her sneakers in the refrigerator and eating
tin foil, and at last all the buys come in and the books arrive in the warehouse
where they might as well be cinder blocks for all the employees care, and this
baby ships, and the UPS guy’s not especially happy about the situation ’cause
we’re talking lots and lots of pounds here, but anyway the books arrive at various
distribution centers and then on to the stores where to most of the staff they’re
just another book, though there is this one guy, Adam, who works in the cafe
and who buys a copy with his 30% discount and takes it home and secretly
prepares borscht in his mother’s kitchen and makes an unholy mess, and despite
ads in major papers, we’re a week in and the book’s not doing so hot, it might
almost be called DOA, and then not a month later 78% percent of the books
are back in the publisher’s warehouse and everybody’s all sulky about it, and
they’re remaindered for some pitiful sum, and then in the entrance area of a
Barnes & Noble one day, this lonely guy named Peter just happens to notice
that
The Borscht Book is a palindrome, that it reads the same back-to-front, and
it just so happens that Peter does a book review for his school paper from time
to time, so he writes a little paragraph about the
The Borscht Book in which he
touts it as an act of unprecedented literary subterfuge and suddenly another
review appears in the town paper and then one in the county paper and soon
reviews are flooding the national media and the Internet of course, and
translators are quickly turning their attention to
The Borscht Book, tasking to
translate the thing while preserving the palindrome, which is all but impossible
and they know it but what the heck, and meanwhile this whole palindrome
business is all news to the author who just wrote a book on borscht is all, and
suddenly people are snatching up copies of
The Borscht Book like it’s going
out of style which it absolutely is not, and the publishing company stops sulking
and goes back to press and prints more books, which they sell at the original
14.95 price, and even then it continues to move like some unstoppable virus
and borscht restaurants start springing up on every corner, there’s a Borscht
Political Party and a Save-the-Beets Foundation, and in no time at all the book’s
deemed a seminal classic and being taught in college classrooms by professors
who hail it as the greatest piece of esoteric genius since
Finnegans Wake while
the students feel like what’s the point until they actually do read the thing and are
blown away by it, and a zillion books later, the author dies and even more of
these things fly off the shelves, and it breaks all kinds of records until it ranks
second only to the
Holy Bible in copies sold, and homeless guys are now using
the books as pillows, and fourteen desks around the country are propped up
with mass markets, and reissues start coming out every few years with fancy-
shmancy prefaces, not to mention the occasional festschrift to the late author,
and every publisher in the world is chomping at the bit for sixty-odd years hence
when they too can capitalize on
The Borscht Book, and one afternoon there’s
a ceremony to rename Times Square “Borscht Square,” and this fever is clearly
unstoppable and hell-hot, bestseller lists physically explode, wrecking balls level
the free market, the future of civilization hangs in the balance . . . and then
someone does a thing on weinershnitzel that’s a palindrome both horizontally
and vertically and just like that the whole borscht thing comes grinding,
inexorably, to a halt.




                          ____________________________


M. Thomas Gammarino holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The New
School in New York City, and he is currently working toward a Ph.D. at the
University of Hawaii.   


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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Literature
 

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 2, Number 1
(Spring 2007)

Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

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