(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Thomas Mallon has established himself as one of the United States’ premier historical novelists, using the fact and fiction of the national past to fashion intelligent, imaginative novels. Bandbox takes as its milieu the colorful cultural scene of New York City in the 1920’s. Calvin Coolidge is President, liquor is bottled, sold, and drunk on the sly, and the stock market crash remains safely in the near-distance.

The novel’s title comes from the name of the men’s magazine which figures at the novel’s center. The magazine’s editor, Jehosophat “Joe” Harris, has recently rescued the magazine from obscurity and made it the country’s premier magazine for the American man. This is one of the novel’s subtext: the ways in which American culture shapes images of masculinity and femininity. Bandbox has its rival, though, in a new upstart magazine—Cutaway—edited by a former Bandbox writer and which purports to represent the “new” American male. The competition between the two magazines comes replete with intrigue, subterfuge, and dirty tricks.

Into his novel, Mallon introduces a host of historical and non-historical characters. Dorothy Gish, Ty Cobb, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney, Leopold and Loeb: all are mentioned. Perhaps the most significant historical figure to play a central role as an actual character in Bandbox, though, is the notorious gambler and gangster, Arnold...

(The entire section is 401 words.)