The Observer

Written by Natalie Wexler
Review by Joanna Urquhart

Wexler (The Mother Daughter Show, A More Obedient Wife) bases her latest novel on the life of Eliza Anderson, who became in 1807 the first American woman ever to be the editor of a magazine when she founded Baltimore’s smart, satirical weekly Observer. Eliza is already familiar with the editorial trade (regarding some recent submissions, she utters a wry line any editor might echo: “I imagine some of these offerings would be greatly improved by having their pages rearranged at random”), but nothing prepares her for the rivalries, the pressures, the compromises, and even the hard-won fun of producing fifty-two issues  of an increasingly-popular magazine.

The novel is set in a young and still quite raw America, and Eliza faces many well-dramatized challenges; indeed, she seems to welcome controversy, translating a scandalous French novel for public consumption and beginning an open affair with a French architect without exactly being an unmarried woman. Wexler handles all this material with sparkling wit, a keen ear for dialogue, and a sure hand at plot and pacing, turning a little-known footnote in feminist history into an unforgettable heroine. Very highly recommended.