Wendy: Author and journalist Barbara Fischkin’s debut novel Exclusive Reporters in Love…and War is the charming and fictionalized tale of Barbara Fischkin and Jim Mulvaney (Barbara’s real life husband) meeting, sparing, falling in love, falling out of love, all the while chasing down leads, fighting to get out of Long Island, and stepping lightly through the minefield of international politics.
In the early eighties, a tryout out for Newsday leads Barbara to Ronkonkoma, New York. It’s closer to her dream of living and working in Manhattan than her previous job in Albany, but, possibly, farther away once her new editor “Leisure Suit” declares the city off limits. While working on non-story, non-news item pieces to prove her worth as a reporter, Barbara runs into Mulvaney. Or, rather he shoves her. The encounter, however brief, leaves Barbara falling head over heals into dislike. Her aversion to Mulvaney blossoms into hatred when he commits the foreplay faux pas of questioning Barbara’s intelligence. The pair go on to volley and lob barbs as Barbara’s father is arrested during “Las Vegas Nite” at her family’s shul which propels them into a courtship that is equal parts can’t-stand-one-another-can’t-stand-to-not-be-with-one-another. Just when Barbara is certain Mulvaney intends to ruin it all by proposing, he announces he’s leaving to cover the Troubles in Ireland. Barbara stays in Long Island, stewing in her misery until her mother, Mulvaney and, it would seem, the IRA conspire to bring her to Ireland and keep her there.
As the protagonist, Barbara is sharp, witty—bordering on caustic—and entirely relatable: I have one job as a wife, to dissuade Mulvaney. She is not a heroine, but, rather a real young woman struggling against herself, her family, and her work place. Mulvaney is cute and amiable both in his awkward attempts at flirtation, “You kiss your mother with that mouth?” and as the product of that flirtation: husband. “Okay, so you want to include your childhood because you were dreaming about me even then. You were in love with me before you even met me.”
The voice is charming and clever with a humor that is pure chicklit. However, the story is not about party drinks, expensive shoes or the never ending hunt for fresh male meat. The novel shines brightest in the between-chapter-present-day commentary as the writer Barbara Fischkin reflects on the characters of Barbara Fischkin and Jim Mulvaney. More important than the observations made, is the look at a couple staying in love. Most often, love stories, are not at all about being in love, or even falling in love, but rather what leads up to love. Exclusive tells the story of a couple falling in love and simultaneously (as much as that is possible with events twenty years removed) remaining in love. The chapter post-mortems prove that the story doesn’t end at happily ever after, but in fact, happily ever after is just the beginning.
The front note of the book declares that the story “is based, casually, on our lives.” That makes for both an interesting jumping off point and a real stumbling block for the read. It is easier, perhaps, to feel invested in characters that are real people, but difficult to be completely immersed in the story as the question of what is fact and what is fiction is ever present.
Exclusive Reports in Love…and War is fiction that is unapologetically a love story with a happy ending; an interesting and refreshing alternative to the both the concept that mainstream fiction cannot end well and the constructs, setups, and clichés of genre romance.
HelenKay: Exclusive Reports in Love…and War is the fictionalized account of Jewish journalist Barbara Fischkin’s meeting and courtship with her real life Irish husband, fellow journalist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Jim Mulvaney.
The book starts with a suggestion by Mulvaney – she calls him that so I will too – that he is not only interesting enough to star in a book, he’s interesting enough to star in a book written by his wife. Barbara then, with some reluctance, sets off to tell their tale. The journey takes the reader from Long Island to Northern Ireland and back again. The settings are believable, the dialog is smart and funny, and Mulvaney is absolutely endearing, even though you won’t know why you think so until the very end.
What’s real and what’s fiction is hard to parse out and will keep you guessing long after the book is done. At times, the device and knowing you are getting a peek into the romantic roller coaster of real people’s lives can pull you out of the story. The temptation to stop reading and, instead, google these folks for the "real" story is always there. That may be the inherent flaw whenever a book centers on real people but purports to only do so "casually" as this one does. The good news is that you’ll be able to put this issue aside and read on anyway.
The actual meeting, or the fictional one, happens in a newsroom. Not the first place one thinks of for a romantic fling but rest assured Barbara doesn’t think so either. She gets her big break and a ticket out of Albany, New York when she’s offered a trial run at Newsday on Long Island. For Barbara, the location is pure hell, one step closer to her eccentric parents and still too far away from Manhattan. She dreams of catching the big story in the Big City. Instead, she gets local flavor which she tries to turn into newspaper inches.
Her nemesis from Day One is Mulvaney, the fast-talking big shot who gets to cover the impressive stories and work in Manhattan even though Barbara’s boss insists the paper doesn’t cover Manhattan. Mulvaney, and every other male reporter in the book, blow through the Newsday offices with a schoolboy sense of machismo. Barbara describes the scene in detail but never resorts to easy stereotypes. She breathes life into a musty newsroom and manages to make a romantic hero out of a guy with a collection of short-sleeve plaid shirts.
Just as the romance heats up from banter to actual physical contact and possibly a lifetime together, Mulvaney packs up and leaves town. Leaves the country, actually. He heads for bigger stories in Ireland with only a postcard for Barbara, which she responds to with her usual acerbic charm. But Mulvaney isn’t gone for good. With an assist from Barbara’s mother, Mulvaney lures Barbara to him and into a world of IRA heavyweights, gunrunning and arrests in Ireland.
Somehow, Barbara makes all of this work. In part, the reader follows because, knowing Barbara and Mulvaney are real reporters, we assume the international travel and espionage are possible. Also, in part, because we want to follow. Barbara’s writing is that engaging. Her humor, which at times borders on biting and makes you wonder just why Mulvaney would ever regret leaving her behind, carries the book. Even in moments of serious danger, Barbara portrays their lives and unfolding love with poignant realism.
Exclusive Reports in Love…and War is hard to define but even harder to put down. It is fun and funny, sweet and sassy. It is intelligent with a chick lit voice but without chick lit cliches. You won’t find obsessions about shoes and clothing. You also won’t find descriptive love scenes. Instead, you’ll find a solid love story and be treated to a glimpse of what appears to be a solid marriage. A different kind of story, perhaps, but worthwhile. And, allegedly there is a sequel in the works, which is good news indeed.
HelenKay’s response to Wendy: This book doesn’t fit easily into the category of romance. It doesn’t hold to any traditional romance writing rules and lacks the gripping sexual tension of many modern novels of the genre. With those thoughts in mind, does Exclusive work as a romance or is it really an autobiographical read with a light and enjoyable voice? And, does it even matter?
Wendy’s response to HelenKay: Exclusive doesn’t aspire to genre romance. It’s simply a story that succeeds on its uniqueness, originality, and strength of the narrative. It is a love story that does not follow the pre-prescribed boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-wins-girl-back formula; even if all those things happen on the way to happily ever after.
HelenKay’s Final Thoughts: The author’s easy style, witty storytelling and even pacing move the plot quickly to conclusion as you wonder how these folks will ever find their way to each other, even though you know it’s inevitable. Even for those who insist that all the romance writing rules be met will enjoy this one. For everyone else, I highly recommend this fast read for something different and fresh.
Wendy’s Final Thoughts: Exclusive Reports in Love…and War is a quick, easy and engaging read. It’s a screwball comedy that is too intelligent to be silly, and too funny to be serious. Highly recommended.