In an office high above Madison Square Park, the new editor of The Bespoke Review is preparing to snort a fine, white powder.
“Mind if I toot?” Chester Beale asks.
Mr. Beale’s vintage snuff box—originally fashioned as a gift from Lord Byron to a Flemish mistress—is inlaid with Colombian emeralds and Tahitian pearls. But these days, instead of the more exotic stimulants that Byron enjoyed, the box contains a pulverized vitamin mixture designed by Mr. Beale’s in-home nutritionist.
As he begins his stewardship of what is arguably the world’s most prestigious literary magazine, Mr. Beale—who favors Roca Fela suits, Converse All-Stars, and gold pince nez (his signature accessory)—is returning the glamour and prestige to a profession that has lately seemed to be losing its luster.
Scattered around Mr. Beale’s desk are some of his cherished mementos: a bust of Edna St. Vincent Millay; a desiccated condom said to have been worn by Norman Mailer. Before he can take another “toot” of his vitamins, a team of interns arrives to dust and polish Mr. Beale’s relics. These unpaid workers make up eighty percent of the magazine’s staff.
In the short time since Mr. Beale assumed the chief’s desk at The Bespoke Review—his predecessor, Arthur Clay, was stabbed in an elevator by a rejected writer—his office has become a kind of informal, non-stop party, a place where Manhattan’s elite can swing by to chat about Proust, down some vodka gimlets, and ask Mr. Beale to recommend a good abortion doctor.
In another era, Mr. Beale’s role might have been played by George Plimpton, Gertrude Stein, or Caligula. “The literary set has been dying for someone to make educated, well-dressed white men sexy again,” says a former Bespoke intern. “Chester does that, thank God. He’s got sex appeal. For a magazine editor, I mean. By any normal standard, no.”
Chester Swinbottom Ebbersly Beale was born in 1983, son of the late novelist George Macaulay Beale, who was hailed as “the John Updike of the lower Hudson River Valley between Ossining and Dobbs Ferry.” But the younger Mr. Beale is quick to point out that he didn’t ascend the peaks of literary stardom because of his father. “Pup Pup always said I should avoid the writing life, since it never brought him anything but free martinis and rapacious female admirers. No, I got this job on my own. By sleeping with Lana Schulz, the publisher.” He stares out the window for some time. “But it was worth it.”
On a drizzly Saturday evening, Mr. Beale arrives at the New York Public Library in a black Cadillac Escalade with ruby-encrusted rims for the annual Elderly Lions party. But Mr. Beale’s engine is off. The luxury SUV has been outfitted with two wooden poles, thrusting forward from the chassis, and is being pulled by a team of Belorussian weightlifters in the manner of an Oriental rickshaw.
“Oh, it’s just a little joked I played on Lang Lang once,” Mr. Beale says as he enters the marble foyer. “Now people expect it of me.”
At the gala, media mogul Oprah Winfrey wraps Mr. Beale in a bearish embrace. Then she seizes him by the lapels. “Chester, I’m begging you. What should I read next?”
Not everyone is friendly with the new face of The Bespoke Review. After an incident that reportedly involved an essay collection, a ten-day cruise on the Danube, and an Autro-Tibetan supermodel, Sir Salman Rushdie has publicly sworn to bite Mr. Beale’s face apart if they ever meet again.
Readers of The Bespoke Review may be surprised to learn that Mr. Beale, whose taste in belles-lettres is regarded as infallible—he rejected Twilight by Stephanie Meyers because it was “not trashy enough”—can neither read nor write. Moreover, he doesn’t need to. “I don’t read words,” Mr. Beale said in an interview with the Corsican fashion magazine Fig. “I read people.”
As for his extra-literary views, Beale confesses that he’d like to see the United States return to its former status as a British colony. “They have so much to teach us,” he says, carving a boiled goose with his diamond cufflinks, “about the literary canon, and how to keep on imitating it forever.” More than a few heads nod in the library ballroom when he says this. In addition to his editorial duties, Beale is the secretary-treasurer of the New York City lodge of the American Loyalists to the British Crown.
“It’s a difficult road ahead for Chester,” says Esmerelda von Metternich, an arts reporter for The New York Chalice. “He needs to rebuild The Bespoke Review. He needs to rebuild literature. He needs to make it matter again.” From his place near the podium, Mr. Beale blows Ms. Metternich a kiss. “Luckily,” she says, “he only needs to make it matter to six or seven people in this room.”
– Brian Hurley