Named one of Cosmopolitan's Best Books of 2018
From the husband and wife writing duo Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer comes Mr. Nice Guy, a funny and all too real comedy about the pursuit of success in life--and love--in today's working world.
Lucas Callahan, a man who gave up his law degree, fiancée and small-town future for a shot at making it in the Big Apple. He snags an entry-level job at Empire magazine, believing it’s only a matter of time before he becomes a famous writer. And then late one night in a downtown bar he meets a gorgeous brunette who takes him home...
Carmen Kelly wanted to be a hard-hitting journalist, only to find herself cast in the role of Empire's sex columnist thanks to the boys' club mentality of Manhattan magazines. Her latest piece is about an unfortunate—and unsatisfying—encounter with an awkward and nerdy guy, who was nice enough to look at but horribly inexperienced in bed.
Lucas only discovers that he’s slept with the infamous Carmen Kelly—that is, his own magazine’s sex columnist!—when he reads her printed take-down. Humiliated and furious, he pens a rebuttal and signs it, "Nice Guy." Empire publishes it, and the pair of columns go viral. Readers demand more. So the magazine makes an arrangement: Each week, Carmen and Lucas will sleep together... and write dueling accounts of their sexual exploits.
It’s the most provocative sexual relationship any couple has had, but the columnist-lovers are soon engaging in more than a war of words: They become seduced by the city’s rich and powerful, tempted by fame, and more attracted to each other than they’re willing to admit. In the end, they will have to choose between ambition, love, and the consequences of total honesty.
“The Devil Wears Prada meets Sex and the City—a page-turner that's part sex diary, part coming-of-age story." —Carolyn Kylstra, editor in chief, SELF
“I COULD NOT PUT THIS BOOK DOWN!!! It totally messed up my week, it messed up my deadlines, but I absolutely loved it.” —Kevin Kwan, author of Crazy Rich Asians
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|File size:||4 MB|
About the Author
Jennifer Miller is an author and journalist. Her debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, was called "entirely addictive" (Glamour) and a "darkly comic romp” (The Washington Post). She writes frequently for The New York Times Styles section. She is married to Jason Feifer (her coauthor of Mr. Nice Guy), and they live in Brooklyn.
Jason Feifer is editor in chief of Entrepreneur magazine, host of the podcast Pessimists Archive, and previously worked as an editor at Men's Health, Maxim, Fast Company, and Boston. He is married to Jennifer Milller (his coauthor of Mr. Nice Guy) and they live in Brooklyn.
Read an Excerpt
Just shy of 9:00 A.M., his underarms already brackish, Lucas emerged from the Chambers Street subway and joined the throng of pedestrians converging on One World Trade. For a month now, he'd been making this trip alongside the tourists and suits, the Truthers and Staten Island émigrés. He loved the commute, August heat be damned. In fact, he couldn't believe his luck. To be here, finally, in New York, working inside that gleaming scepter of polished glass. The building's spire pierced the impossible blue, seemed to stab straight through the sun. It reminded Lucas of a batter at the plate, pointing to the outfield.
A cynical person would have been embarrassed by such grandiose thoughts. But Lucas couldn't help himself. Though only a fact-checker — an invertebrate on the media food chain — he thrilled to enter One World Trade's echoing lobby each morning. He loved how the tap of his ID commanded the security bar to swing down and simultaneously summon the elevator. He rarely shared the car with anyone else. Everyone in this elevator bank worked in magazines, which meant they didn't arrive until at least 10:00 A.M. But Lucas hadn't yet adjusted to these so-called media hours. By 10, it felt as though half the day had already shriveled in the heat. And Lucas couldn't afford any missteps. Too many people back home believed it was only a matter of time before he skulked back below the Mason-Dixon. They eagerly awaited his contrite return to the old life, the one he'd lived so well until he ruined everything and went to New York: that "polluted, sweaty cesspool of liberalism." These were his grandmother's exact words.
"People sweat in Charlotte," Lucas had argued. "But they don't smell!" his grandmother retorted. "Unless you're rich, New York is like a slum. It's like India."
Lucas's grandmother had never been to New York or India. But that was beside the point. In dropping out of law school after a year and breaking up with his (wealthy, pedigreed) fiancée six months shy of their wedding, he'd dashed the hopes and expectations of his family. Never mind that Mel had dumped him. Everyone, including Mel herself, believed that Lucas should have done more to salvage the situation. Instead, like a coward, he'd run away — and to Yankeedom of all places! — turning his back on the people, the very culture, that had raised him.
With the exception of his older brother, Sam, Lucas hadn't spoken to his family once since arriving in Manhattan a month ago. But so what? This was the place he'd longed to be, and he was working at Empire Magazine, the place he'd always wanted to work. So what if he inhabited a poorly ventilated box and only made thirty-three thousand pre-tax dollars a year?
The elevator doors slid open at the twenty-ninth floor and Lucas stepped out.
Painted opposite the elevator bank in massive black letters, the word was the visual equivalent of a bullhorn or a punch in the face. And why shouldn't the empire — as everyone called their floor — intimidate? The magazine was a fifty-year-old New York City institution headquartered in Manhattan's newest bastion of hopefulness and pride.
Heading toward his desk, Lucas walked past the glass-walled offices of the magazine's editors — its ruling class — their large windows overlooking Lower Manhattan and the East River. He passed the cubicle banks, dense as Iron Block buildings, where the proletariat — the staff writers, designers, marketers, and other assorted minions — produced the bimonthly publication. He was well into the suburbs of the empire by now, approaching the outpost of interns. And then, finally, the cluster of fact-checkers. How absurd that the fact-checkers should have less desirable real estate than the interns, but so it went. These were the exurbs, backed against a windowless wall, unwarmed by the sun. Lucas knew he shouldn't complain. He'd only been at Empire for a month. His career, he reminded himself, would take persistence and time. And yet his initial leap of faith had catapulted him so far, so fast. Should he not continue to bound with the same speed?
Lucas sat down at his tidy desk. His colleagues' workspaces were cluttered with papers, on which they'd scribbled and typed the minutiae — the facts — of the upcoming issue. But Lucas let nothing pile up, literally or figuratively. He'd come to New York to unburden himself. And yet in so doing, he now had a year's worth of law-school debt to worry about. To make matters worse, his work frequently reminded him of his penury. Just now, for example, he was fact-checking a story about a celebrity chef whose restaurant featured a "gold menu." For a few thousand dollars, you could have a gold-flecked Kobe burger or a margarita with a gold-dusted salt rim. It was amazing to think how less than a decade ago the same people who paid bank for gold-baked branzino had been crying on the floor of the stock exchange.
Lucas tried to work, but before long he was checking his ex's Facebook page. Just two months after their breakup and Mel was already "in a relationship." The new suitor's page was private, so Lucas had limited material: height and build (tall, sturdy), clothing (khakis, popped collar, baseball hat), and name (Cal Braden). In short, a lacrosse-playing frat bro. If New York had its Masters of the Universe, then Dixie had its Kings of Douchery. It was obvious from these photographs that Cal Braden couldn't wait to give a pretty southern girl a big rock, and a big house, and a big brood of children styled head to toe in Vineyard Vines. Lucas didn't want any of that. And yet some deeply embedded muscle strained with the discovery that Mel had exchanged him for this newer, preppier model. Oh, and she'd untagged herself from all of Lucas's photos. They'd been together for six years — four at college and two afterward — and it was like he never existed.
* * *
"Jesus, Luke. It's been a month already. You've got to quit sucking up to the boss. You're making the rest of us look bad."
Lucas quickly minimized Facebook and swiveled around. Franklin, short and snub-nosed, his hair spiked like porcupine quills, stood there drinking a Venti iced coffee, the plastic still sweating from the heat.
"What time is it?"
"Ten thirty." Franklin pulled his Jack Spade messenger bag over his head.
Had he really been looking at pictures of Mel for an hour?
"How many times do I have to tell you, Luke: Nobody knows we're back here."
If nobody knows we're back here, Lucas thought, then I'm not making you look bad. Still, Lucas was convinced that his colleagues would eventually come to respect his work ethic. That Luke, they'd say. He hustles. At some point, the brass would take notice. Otherwise, Lucas would succumb to the same fate as Franklin, who was still checking facts three whole years after arriving at Empire. How could someone languish like that? If Lucas had been smart enough to flee Charlotte immediately after college, he'd surely be an editor by now.
Then again, he'd just wasted an hour on Facebook. His self-loathing felt like a cement block. Somebody might as well push him into the East River.
"What're you working on?" Franklin leaned over the cubicle wall.
"The Best Restaurants package."
Franklin frowned. "Empire must be in trouble or we wouldn't be covering this shit. Every single issue of Washingtonian is the Best Restaurants issue. And every issue of Boston magazine is 'Best of Boston,' which is funny, because everything in Boston is the worst."
Lucas disagreed. There was still plenty of actual culture in Empire — political analysis and at least three meaty features each month. The magazine held the same world of promise that had captivated him back in college when he happened to pick up a copy at Barnes & Noble. He'd started subscribing, to the confusion of his dorm mates and later to Mel, who never understood why he cared about some recent scandal involving the mayor's daughter, or the city's gentrification battles, or the rise of sketchy Chinatown bathhouses. Nobody back home understood how the glossy pages transported Lucas into a world equally full of glamour and grit, of modernity and history, of culture from the subterranean to the heavenly. Everything you wanted to talk about, and see and experience, was captured within Empire.
"How long before they had you checking big features?" Lucas asked now.
"So precocious, this kid!" Franklin snickered. "It's adorable."
Franklin could make all the fun he wanted. A year from now, he'd still be stuck in the exurbs, checking the veracity of other people's stories. But not me, Lucas thought. I'll be writing them. He closed Facebook and got to work on his thousand-dollar hamburgers.CHAPTER 2
At precisely 11:13 A.M., Lucas received an email from the Editor-in-Chief's secretary. He was being summoned.
Many months later, when Lucas picked through the rubble of his career, attempting to unearth the bomb that had led to its implosion, he decided it had all started here, with this missive. At the moment, however, he could hardly guess what the Editor wanted with him. Jay Jacobson was one of the city's most formidable media moguls. Inside Empire, he was a benevolent despot: feared, revered, discreetly criticized for his capricious nature, but, above all, obeyed. Among themselves, the staff called him Jays, a play on his alliterative name. It was a small, inert act of rebellion, secretly sanctioned by the despot to give the proletariat an illusion of control.
Lucas read and reread the email — "4pm, Mr. Jacobson's office" — trying to determine whether this request was good or very bad. He only realized that he was exhaling heavily, and repeatedly, when Franklin's head popped up, whack-a-mole style, from the divider. "Dude, what's with the asthma attack?" "Jays wants to see me."
Franklin frowned. "Well, when you greet him, make sure you bow deeply, from the waist."
"Ha-ha," Lucas said, though later that afternoon when Lucas went to prep in the bathroom he tried out an experimental bow in front of the mirror. He felt — and looked — ridiculous. Lucas righted himself. Then he straightened his tie. He was the only person in the office who wore one to work every single day and, like his commitment to an early arrival, the decision had raised more than a few eyebrows. And yet look how smart he'd been! Making your mark was about preparation, about being ready for anything at a moment's notice. "You were born to work here," he whispered as he gave himself one final once-over and smiled to make sure there wasn't anything stuck in his teeth. "You're going to impress the shit out of this guy."
But first he had to get himself past the Editor's assistants, Florence and Phyllis. These were Jays' loyal sentries: hefty women of indeterminate middle age who had worked at Empire as long as anyone could remember. Despite their doughy appendages and double chins, they projected a stone-like severity. At times, it seemed they were asleep with their eyes open. People called them the Sphinxes.
"Pst! Lucas!" Alexis was beckoning him. She was Jays' third assistant, the one who did most of his busywork. Petite to the point of fragile, she looked as though she might shatter, should she accidentally bump into something. Her breasts, however, were enormous. Lucas had heard a senior editor refer to them as "French," and since then he'd had a difficult time keeping his eyes on Alexis's face. At least he made a concerted effort to do so; plenty of others, both male and female colleagues, did not.
"You can go right in," Alexis said, and then, with an air of conspiracy, whispered, "Just don't look those women in the eye or you'll turn to stone. And when you leave, make sure you back away. Slowly."
"Right, thanks," Lucas said, because his nerves were too ratcheted up for a witty response. And also, maybe it was good advice? He could feel the Sphinxes' eyes on him as he walked, following him in a reptilian sort of way. He knocked and was told to enter.
The afternoon light in Jays' office was blinding. It was like walking into a prism: dizzying and dazzling, everything fractured. "Hello?" Lucas blinked repeatedly, frantically. Was he really blowing this already?
"Good to meet you!" Jays stood up from his desk and suddenly the room snapped into focus, as though physically altered by the man's impeccably clothed, strapping physique. Lucas had known plenty of alpha men at UNC, but this guy could have been a movie star. He was in his mid-forties but somehow looked ageless. His chin and nose were perfect, sculpture worthy. His eyes were a deep cerulean blue, and his teeth gleamed. He met Lucas in the middle of the room and presented his hand. Jays' sleeves were rolled up, his forearms strong and hairless.
Does he wax his arms? Lucas hesitated before gathering himself. "Great to meet you, too," he said, and shook, remembering to keep his fingers firm.
"Please." Jays motioned to a sitting area where a beautiful distressed-leather couch, an armchair, and a coffee table polished to the point of invisibility were arranged on a white shag rug. Jays relaxed into the chair. "How're you settling in at Empire, Luke?" he asked.
"I'm great," Lucas said, trying to unobtrusively size up the Editor. Jays wore a crisp linen oxford with two open buttons and — Lucas noticed — no undershirt. Light gray slacks and black Gucci horsebit loafers. No socks. The only thing missing from this picture was a tumbler of scotch. Some of the editors' desks were veritable bar carts, but Jays' didn't have a single bottle of alcohol on display. What he did have was an entire wall of shelves lined with identical notebooks. It was one of the Editor's well-known eccentricities that he preferred writing by hand (with a Lamy 2000 extra-fine-nib pen, which Alexis ordered on Amazon for the affordable price of $134.99) inside a bespoke leather-bound ledger. Every few months, a box of them arrived from Milan. Each notebook was rumored to cost hundreds of dollars.
"I'm thrilled to be working here," Lucas said.
Jays smiled serenely. "I'm very happy to hear it. You know, Luke, we generally don't hire people who come to us so totally green."
Lucas started to sweat.
"Housman said you were a go-getter."
Dan Housman was number two on the masthead. Both he and Lucas had been Sigma Chi at UNC, albeit many years apart. It was the only reason Lucas's application had made it out of the HR slush pile.
" ... which makes sense," Jays continued, "because I gather that Sigma Chi isn't usually available to someone whose father, well, sells cars?"
It was true; Lucas's fraternity brothers were the sons of bankers and corporate executives. They all paid full tuition. But they'd welcomed Lucas in, seeming to delight in the novelty of him: this salt-of-the-earth representative. Never mind that Lucas's backyard straddled one of Charlotte's most affluent suburbs or that his parents belonged to the city's third most desirable country club. At parties his fraternity brothers could say, ... and this is Lucas, whose dad actually sells cars! Lucas didn't mind. It was, after all, a mutually beneficial arrangement.
But hearing "sells cars" out of Jays' mouth made Lucas cringe. "Actually," he said as gently as possible, "my dad owns the dealership."
"To be the son of a car salesman," Jays continued, "and to have the audacity to walk right into a fraternity where you didn't belong —"
Was he being insulted? He couldn't tell.
"— is the kind of initiative that I admire."
Hold on. Jay Jacobson admired him?
"I have to say, Luke, that I was impressed by your application. It's been a long time since I've seen someone with so much passion for this magazine. Such a familiarity with what we do. And to be the son of a car salesman from North Carolina!"
Out of Jays' mouth, "North Carolina" might as well have been Madagascar. And yet it hardly mattered. The Editor admired him. The Editor was impressed by him!
"But here's a secret I'll share with you, Luke."
Jays leaned forward in the chair. Up close, Lucas saw that the Editor had a small shaving nick on his jaw. It was also true about his eyes: They were a little too close. Lucas relaxed a little.
"By dint of fate, or God, or what have you, I also had the misfortune to be born in a less than advantageous location. Beloit, Kansas, if you can believe that. Sometimes I wonder: When there's New York, can there also be Kansas? Do you understand what I'm saying?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Mr. Nice Guy"
Copyright © 2018 Jennifer Miller and Jason Feifer.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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