By Suzanne Rindell
Putnam (512 pages, $27)
“Nobody ever became a writer by just wanting to be one.” This terse advice by F. Scott Fitzgerald sets the scene for a compelling exploration of New York City’s Greenwich Village scene in the late 1950s, when beatniks, berets and big ideas gravitated to jazz clubs, and women and minorities could begin to voice ambition without feeling outright derision. (There was derision, but more politic.)
Three ambitious young people intersect: Eden, a Midwestern girl who believes that her sincere desire to be a books editor will open doors; Cliff, a self-absorbed loser who believes that writing like Hemingway or Kerouac will make him as famous, and Miles, a talented black writer from Harlem who is grappling with his closeted sexuality along with his race.
Through them, Rindell gives us a history lesson -- one cover blurb makes a “Mad Men” reference -- but her story is the driver as each character confronts the compromises and sacrifices asked by adulthood, and also by the times. Through several unexpected characters and plot twists, the action builds in momentum and suspense, right until the final pages. “Three-Martini Lunch” will make several afternoons at the beach a substantive pleasure, gaining a tan along with some insight. (TNS)