In the pitch-perfect tradition of the very best of Nick Hornby, Martin Amis, and Christopher Buckley comes Slab Rat, a razor-sharp, highly comic novel of lethal ambition and office politics.
Zachary Arlen Post is an up-and-coming editor at It magazine, one of the glossiest jewels in the glittery publishing crown of Versailles Publishing. The son of a well-regarded architect and an eccentric Palm Beach socialite, Zack was educated at an exclusive boarding school and has studied at Colgate, Berkeley, and Liverpool University. He is an excellent golfer and has a talent for translating Plautus from the original Latin.
Or maybe not.
He is really Allen Zachary Post, the son of a garment-center bookkeeper from Queens and a pool-supply salesman from Long Island. But for Zack, his background is too prosaic for a slightly lazy but very ambitious magazine editor who wants to move up at It. Even though Zack has concocted a background that is more in keeping with the privileged world he wants to be a part of than the truth, his ascent up the masthead has stalled: Try though he might -- and maybe he's too lazy to try that hard -- he just cannot seem to get promoted.
Enter Mark Larkin, a determined, Harvard-educated hire who understands how the corporate game is played. Mark says the right things, he lunches with the right people, and he pitches the right stories. A snob thriving in a world of snobs, he begins to get noticed, and, to Zack's dismay, is promoted quickly.
Zack realizes that something must be done. Mark Larkin must be destroyed.
To complicate his life further, Zack finds himself involved with two women. One is a cool (or is she just ice cold?) English beauty with a hyphenated last name and vague family connections to Winston Churchill. The other is an eager, sweet-natured intern whose father is the magazine's barracuda corporate counsel. Zack is torn between the style (and hyphen) of one and the good-natured substance of the other.
In Slab Rat, Ted Heller uses the magazine industry as a laboratory in which to dissect human nature. He has written a biting, outrageous story of how the rats that battle for dominance amid New York's skyscrapers -- or "slabs" -- survive and triumph, and the price they must pay to win. Full of dark comedy and a ruthless satire of office life (and death), Slab Rat is a novel rich with the wicked pleasures of the heart.
A satirical look at the glitzy world of New York magazine publishing by a young insider, Heller's debut novel charts the progress of Zachary (Zack) Post, an overqualified underachiever with a fraudulent past. Zack is at the low end of It magazine's corporate ladder, and he is desperate to move up. Both Zack and his "friend" Willie (read: least likely to take Zack's job) are beside themselves with the arrival and meteoric ascent of New Boy Mark Larkin, a contemptible brat who cannot even work a fax machine. Larkin's inexplicable promotions set Zack and Willie scheming to sabotage him. But Zack embarks upon a series of progressively ridiculous assignments, which, unbeknownst to him, are being orchestrated by Larkin to keep him away from the office as the new star consolidates power. He thinks that Zack has too many "friends" on staff, such as the New Girl intern, Ivy Kooper (daughter of the magazine's lead counsel), and Zack's strategic marriage interest, rich Brit Leslie Usher-Soames. And Zeke's still pining away for his lost lust Marjorie Millet (the sexpot art director whom he used to shtup in Stairway B and who is now alternately shtupping both Ivy's father and, of course, Mark Larkin). Meanwhile, masochist extraordinaire Willie stops sleeping, begins talking to the walls and buys a gun, swearing to do Larkin in. Ever the rat scheming in his concrete-and-glass slab, Zack plays all the angles he can, forging alliances with powerful enemies and alienating his unsuccessful friends as he tries to get Larkin's job. Like the 1994 film Swimming with Sharks, the novel cutely depicts the full-contact politics, false loyalties and colossal waste of the Great American Office. Heller's Machiavellian comedy is a reasonably entertaining (if unoriginal) first attempt, with special appeal for publishing types. (Feb.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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February 13, 2001
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Excerpt from Slab Rat by Ted Heller
Sleek, glossy art deco chrome, everything is sparkling silver and black and white. We're at a noisy restaurant downtown and I can see my reflection in everything -- the walls, the floor, the plates and food, even the wait staff. Grilled swordfish and lumpy potatoes for twenty-five dollars, nine-dollar shrimp cocktails with only four shrimp and at this swank place they make sure not to cut the little beady eyes off. About fifty of us sitting at long rectangular tables, fifteen people to a table. Willie Lister sits directly across from me, draining glass after glass of white wine, a film of sweat coating his long sloping forehead.
From the brilliantly lit Important Table, a spoon suddenly clanks against a plate and then there is an abrupt hush. Nan Hotchkiss (endless legs but the face and ears of a bloodhound) stands up and makes a toast, holding the overstuffed Filofax that seems surgically attached to her left wrist. "Let's all drink to Jackie and wish her oodles of good luck," she says.
We raise our glasses. Good luck, Jackie. Oodles of it.
A few moments later, Byron Poole, the art director, and one of his androgynous assistants have put on wigs and lipstick. They sing a very off-key version of "Sisters" from White Christmas, Jackie Wooten's favorite movie.
("Which one's supposed to be Rosemary Clooney and which one's Virginia Mayo?" I whisper to Willie.
"You mean Vera-Ellen," he whispers back. He's right.)
Coffee and dessert are now being served. At the head of the Important Table, Betsy Butler stands up a bit woozily, adjusts her seven-hundred-dollar eyeglasses, and taps her spoon against a glass. The din is reduced to intermittent coughing.
"As you all know," our managing editor says, "this is Jackie Wooten's last day with us... she's going on to bigger but hopefully not better things..."