In the memoir, In the Land of Men by Adrienne Miller, the author details her life as a literary editor of Esquire magazine and the difficulties she has had to overcome to stay on top of her game in this male-dominated field. While I enjoyed learning about Miller’s life and exploring the world of publishing, I must admit that the largest impression that this book leaves me with, is, perhaps, the unintended irony of the story.
In her position as an editorial assistant at GQ magazine, Miller describes in detail the masculine nature of this publication. She mentions that most articles by female authors (when accepted) usually only grace the pages of the magazines when they are related to light-hearted topics or when a risqué or playful photo of the author accompanies them. As the literary editor of Esquire, Miller presents the reader with a long list of its prominent male authors and shines light on the markedly small female contingent. All the while, Miller injects personal anecdotes about her experiences with sexual harassment and the double standards that she has faced as a woman in an office of mostly men.
Through these retellings the reader becomes well-versed in Miller’s stance on feminism and critique of the macho culture in which literary publication is shrouded. Yet, in a rather ironic move, Miller chooses to devote a large section of her memoir to stories about her encounters with a well-known, kind-of-misogynistic male author. This author, is none other than David Foster Wallace. He is most famous for Infinite Jest, a work that has been named one of the most influential American novels of the 20th century. Although a work worthy of this title is impressive enough, Wallace, as a person, has received even more attention because he committed suicide at age 46.
Wallace has a cult following and his untimely death has made him a hot topic of debate. Miller had a seven-year semi-erotic friendship with Wallace, which she devotes much detail to in the latter part of her memoir. While understanding this relationship and learning more about Wallace was interesting to me, I could not help but find it ironic that Miller, the strong writer that she is, decides to devote so much of her personal memoir to another male author.
As David Foster Wallace is more of a household name (DFW for short), I understand the marketing appeal of advertising Miller’s memoir as a semi-exposé of DFW. Additionally, I imagine by starting the book with her stances on feminism and ending it on DFW, it is a savvy way to draw in readers and let Miller’s voice and convictions be heard first. Either way, I found it somewhat disappointing the DFW steals the spotlight in Miller’s story. Miller is an impressive woman herself and was promoted to the prestigious position of literary editor at the young age of twenty-five. The fact that half of Miller’s story is the tale of another man, rubbed me the wrong way. However, principles aside, I did very much enjoy this exceptionally well-written memoir.
If you are a fan of books and memoirs (and, yes, of DFW), do consider reading In the Land of Men.