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Straus died in 2004, at 87, and Giroux in 2008, at 94. But it seems as though everybody still alive with a stake in the publishing house talked to Kachka, including FSG authors Franzen and Scott Turow, super-agent and Straus nemesis Andrew Wylie, and FSG’s current president and publisher, Jonathan Galassi. (Kachka calls Galassi “adventurous and open-minded, but cautious in the long-term.”)
Kachka also interviewed Straus’s devoted longtime secretary, Peggy Miller, who invariably accompanied her boss on his annual month-long jaunt to the Frankfurt Book Fair and other European destinations. Many foreign publishers assumed Miller was Straus’s wife. (He was actually married to the former Dorothea Liebmann, who tolerated his peccadilloes and had a lover of her own.) Kachka writes, “Peggy will not deny that she was Straus’s mistress, but she won’t discuss it.” Others do, convincingly, with one friend saying on the record, “She was quite surprised… that he wanted her.”
As for Straus, a truly indelible character of giant ego and enthusiasms, Kachka writes: “He was not exactly sexually repressed…. By the turn of 1960, he was probably sleeping with three of his female employees… at the very least… the switchboard operator and the publicity director.”
The liaisons were impressively cordial. “These two mistresses, who were good friends, went shopping together and bought Roger matching bathrobes so that their boss would feel equally at home having ‘lunch’ in either of their two apartments,” Kachka writes.
“Hothouse” is crammed with similarly delicious anecdotes. Dorothea Straus referred to FSG as a “sexual sewer,” and Kachka affirms that the place was “a cauldron of adultery” involving numerous intra-office pairings.
To the contemporary eye, this all looks distressingly antique, a vestige of an era before sexual-harassment guidelines, not to mention big publishing conglomerates. But this “hothouse” atmosphere also bred loyalty — or so Straus thought — and it may well have helped foster FSG’s unique culture. Certainly, it contributes to this book’s allure.