Books about writers are usually interesting only to other writers. Books about journalists usually aren’t interesting to anyone, but there are exceptions. Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men had all the tension and drama of the best thrillers of the day with the added bonus of being fact instead of fiction. While Elliott Mackle’s Hot Off the Presses doesn’t involve bringing down the President of the United States, it’s an interesting, involving read.
Henry Thompson is the editor of Outlines, the local Atlanta gay rag. With fearless journalistic know-how, he takes on an AIDS-funding boondoggle, prison rape, the homophobic black mayor and the Olympic Games. Assisted by his best friend, Skip Roberts, a tantric massage therapist, he falls in—and out—of love with an Olympian, gets involved with a Sports Illustrated freelancer and finds himself in the middle of a drug-fueled orgy following a fundraiser attended by many Atlanta luminaries.
Having worked for a gay newspaper here in Denver, I can say that Mackle’s Outlines newsroom has a great deal of verisimilitude. Stories are spiked or toned down for fear of offending the publishers or advertisers, which happens more often than anyone in the industry likes to admit. In that respect, Henry Thompson is a throwback—a journalist with integrity. And he pays for that many places in the book.
Mackle’s prose is clear and straightforward, understandable given his newsman’s training, and he tells the story with a keen eye for detail and a sharp sense of irony. His Henry Thompson comes off at times like a smug, sex-negative prig but someone you can trust will do the right thing for his community.
The most interesting character here, however, is Wade Tarpley, the Olympic gymnast with whom Henry has an affair. Tarpley is deeply closeted and totally self-loathing but a brilliant athlete. I don’t want to spoil one of the major plot points, but the incident that takes place between Tarpley and Thompson at the Games is wickedly credible as is the Official Explanation and Reaction.
My only complaint is the ending, in which Skip and the new Sports Illustrated boyfriend perform team tantric massage on our hero in order to clarify his thinking to make a decision. While I understand how this works in with other parts of the plot, it undercuts the credibility and integrity Mackle has built into Thompson. But you may disagree.
Despite this, Hot Off the Presses proves to be both engaging and edifying. And that’s the truth.
© 2011, Jerry L. Wheeler