-Park Slope, NYC
Evan Fein-Epstein received his first manuscript from Tonkler and Huff Publishing last Wednesday morning after completing the company’s in-house certification as a Sensitivity Reader. Late Thursday morning, after attending an organic pet potpourri-mixing seminar and an impromptu Resist Trump Chant Circle at The Learning Annex, he was ready to begin reviewing Jack McNulty’s latest novel in the wildly popular Storm Hardcastle Thriller series: Option Zero. By three o’clock Evan Fein-Epstein was suffering from PTSD.
“The passages that contained the AK assault guns made me feel like I was in Iraq or
something,” said Evan while both hands held a slightly shaking cup of Mystical Bliss during our first interview. “Those guns should be banned. They shoot thousands of rounds per second.”
Evan is part of a new program being standardized by major publishers to help vet tomorrow’s blockbuster reads and protect readers from harmful material. Sensitivity Readers scan finished manuscripts for harmful content that might offend certain readers. Themes such as gender, sexuality, and race are scrutinized to prevent a dwindling reader base from being exposed to dangerous or patriarchal ideas.
“This… this… Storm Hardcastle secret agent was constantly “mansplaining” over female characters. My wife would never allow me to treat her this way. She wears the pants and we’ve both agreed on that. In one scene, a gender-identified woman is talked over when she proposes a sensible plan to negotiate with the terrorists who want to blow up Manhattan. The whole novel was rife with testosterone, big guns, and white privilege. In fact, the President wasn’t even a woman!”
Evan found it difficult to go on as the vetting progressed. He called his contact at Tonkler and Huff and asked if he might make some editorial suggestions to improve the diversity of the novel directly to the author. “There weren’t enough gender-questioning characters on the SEAL team that tries to rescue the diplomat from inside Iran. It felt wrong. Everything I learned in my Creative Writing courses at Hunter College told me the entire narrative was patently false. But they wouldn’t listen at Tonkler and Huff. I couldn’t get through to the editor!”
After spending the afternoon listening to All Things Considered and being calmed, somewhat, by the reassuring Nina Totenburg, Evan was ready to return to McNulty’s world of violence, danger, and espionage. “I made a cold-brewed Kombucha and promised myself a reward if I could just get through another chapter. A bottle of chardonnay and an evening of Transparent with Jeffrey Tambor was definitely on tap. I felt like I’d been to hell and back. I’d earned my war medal.”
But by six o’clock Evan was once again in tears. He phoned his wife Abby Epstein, a housing lawyer for the city, hoping for consolation, inspiration, and validation. But she was at a business meeting over drinks with someone named Lars, according to her secretary.
At this point Evan descended into a world of violence, unable to distinguished between what was real and what was fiction. “It was like George Bush was telling me to waterboard my neighbor Mrs. Koppleman. As I read further and further into the manuscript… I felt like I was on a journey… going up river on a “Kill Mission” for the NSA… like that revival with Brando that Abby and I saw a few years back at the Twinplex.” Evan curled into a fetal position within the family Safe Space and tried to focus on an Indigo Girls CD to calm his nerves. “The pronouns! He used pronouns like they were weapons. It was like he was trying to rape me. Trying to turn me into a killer.”
A long night passed as Evan fought to hold on to his shattered sanity. A sanity shattered by a writer spewing forth male, macho fantasies that threatened Evan’s carefully-crafted metro-sexuality.
“I like bow ties. What can I say?”
Abby’s meeting with Lars went late and Evan was finally able to take enough Ambien to drift off into a tortured sleep. The next morning he appeared at the offices of Tonkler and Huff to report on what he’d found in McNulty’s manuscript.
“It was a propaganda film for the Patriarchy!” he declared.
Janice Bummueller-Wagg, the head editor at Tonkler and Huff reacted immediately. She ordered the junior editor in charge of McNulty’s contract to immediately remove it from the publication schedule. Cimmaron Skye, a gender-studies graduate of Oberlin with a minor in publishing suddenly found herself caught up in her first big publishing scandal. After informing McNulty’s agent that there were “problems “with the manuscript she immediately issued a series of vague-tweets about “shutting down the machine” and “my rape” all hashtagged #Resist
“We can’t thank Evan enough,” says Janice Bummueller-Wagg. “Honestly, we want to publish more fiction like Lavender and Croquet, or even nonfiction like Underwater Hijab: A Muslim Girl’s Quest to Swim in the Olympics at Tonkler and Huff. We don’t need McNulty’s bestselling drek here. Sure it sells big. But we were suspicious once we got a look at the legions of fans showing up at the signings. They’d line up for hours wearing their MAGA trucker hats just to get him to sign a copy of his latest book. We’ll take the hit financially… it’s the right thing to silence something you know is a danger to free speech.”
“I felt whole again,” recounts a calm, yet haunted Evan during our final interview. “I felt like I’d done something noble by pointing out how dangerous and offensive this writer is. He should be forced to enter some kind of rehab, or a reeducation camp, before he’s allowed to write again.”
Evan and I sit in a coffee shop. We’re drinking honey bark tea. He’s wearing a scarf. Abby has been on a business trip to Europe with Lars since the day after this all began. He misses her.
“I miss her. But I know that’s wrong. It’s Patriarchal. I just wish I could share this with her. I wish she could hold me right now.”
Nick Cole was once suspected of murder by the NYPD, but it was a misunderstanding. He also wrote a book called “Ctrl Alt Revolt!” that made a bunch of people mad. Ironically, it won the Dragon Award in 2016. His website is currently blackballed by The Department of Defense. He also does satire. Here’s some…