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The Pantry
Deconstructing Byron
An exclusive Save Martha serial by Andrew Ritchie

Vol. 1 – The Prologue

In the prologue to Martha Inc., Christopher Byron introduces us, only summarily, to the two faces of Martha Stewart that he has glimpsed over the years. There is the warm, personable millionaire with a heart of gold who supports local businesses and uses her status to help others pursue their goals. And, in direct contrast, is the manipulative, shrewd capitalist with a disregard for friendship and tact in matters of business, the woman who storms out of charity luncheons and throws coffee mugs at the wall in fits of rage.

It is in much the same stance that we come to read Byron’s book, never knowing which Christopher Byron actually wrote the words on the page.

Are they the words of the red-blooded, all-American male who concludes that Martha is "pretty good looking" after having studied her from behind at their mutual gym?

Are they the words of the man who praises her business savvy, who was once featured on her show with advice on stock market investing, and who seems to be delighted by the fact that their lives have unfolded in similar patterns of chummy coincidence? ("For thirty years we had both remained in that chichi community in Fairfield County, Connecticut.")

Or, are they the words of the man who started to write this book with Martha’s help and cooperation and found himself jaded and spiteful when she decided not to take part in a biography that amounts to a collection of incriminating gossip?

We will never know. Just as we will never know how much of his book is the work of careful, balanced research based on a desire to understand a thriving business and how much of it is the result of a wetted appetite for dirty gossip on one of the most successful celebrities in popular culture.

It’s apparent that Byron’s thesis changed several times, given the on-again, off-again tone of the prologue. He begins by describing how astonished he was to receive a phone call from Martha one day after she had read a favorable commentary he had written about her company. She invited him to lunch at Paci, an exclusive bistro in Manhattan, and the two appeared to hit it off marvelously. A symbiotic relationship of business tips and promotional strategies emerged and Byron admits to having called Martha a friend at one time, saying he was impressed with her goodness and her brilliance as a businesswoman.

Then, quite suddenly, and without really pinpointing exactly when he decided to go after Martha with guns blazing, he presents us with an entirely new perspective in his prologue by ushering in the gossip, the "how" and the "why" of her controversial reputation. Of the two faces of Martha Stewart, it is the anguished and angry visage that Byron finds most intriguing, most satisfying to write about and, in the end, appears to conclude it is the face most likely to make him big bucks.

We get early traces in the prologue of how the content of the book will eventually stray drastically from the misleading subtitle: The Incredible Story of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. In actuality, the incredible stories in the book will inevitably skim over the function and mandate of the company itself and focus instead on the complex and difficult woman who built it.

Some may argue that they are one and the same, that since the company bears the name of its creator, she is forever bound to its image and its purpose and that she is, therefore, fair game on this investigative trail.

We see in the prologue, however, that Byron was likely seduced away from the initial intent of the book, which judging by the title was to study the business aspect of Martha’s impact on the world, not that of her temper tantrums and sour attitude.

In this telling excerpt from the prologue he ends up in serpentine territory with the discovery of intriguing red herrings and contradictions about the woman herself, tidbits of information and scandal so tempting he simply cannot resist a deeper look:

"But I learned something else about Martha that rarely crept into her public performances as Martha Stewart, America’s Everything Gal. Just offstage, I found another infinitely more complicated Martha lurking in the wings."

Thus, he shifts the bulk of his focus away from "the astonishing backstory to the growth of Martha’s company" to "the toll that the tension between her public and private worlds seemed to be taking on her personally," in less than a few paragraphs.

We all know which story is more interesting to readers and which would sell more books, stir up more controversy, cause more pain, raise more discussion. Of course people want to hear the gossip. They want to know who she REALLY is, just as the public desires to know the details of nearly every celebrity in creation.

So, in the first few pages of his book, Byron settles on the tantalizing morsels of sensationalism in favor of professional commentary:

"The less-visible story is the ‘how’ and ultimately the ‘why’ all this happened: the secret world of Martha Stewart and her dreams. That is our story here – the story of a little girl who never got over what life never gave her and wound up inventing for herself a past she had never known – a hologram of life so powerful that it not only convinced her personally but mesmerized the world. In this way, the quiet little girl from the house on Elm Place became, in time, the richest woman in America – by selling the world all her missing parts. This is the story of what was missing, why it was missing, and how she turned it into a billion dollars."

As a fiction writer, Byron is out of his depth. And yet, the preceding paragraph reads like the jacket of a tacky Danielle Steel novel, presenting his heroine as a character reminiscent of a young Norma Desmond, staring at the illusionary stars above and dreaming of her future close-ups with Mr. Deville.

In the prologue, he sets the unfortunate tone of the book with his unqualified brand of psychoanalysis, which comes off as amateurish to the point of being campy. His arrogance in assuming he knows the intimate secrets of Martha Stewart’s dreams, knows the details of her childhood aspirations and her supposed intent to create a hologram world of falsities and misleading anecdotes, is truly disappointing and often comes across as being cruel.

It discredits much of his legitimate interest in her company and undermines the very interesting information he does manage to present with some taste in the chapters that follow. What it’s all replaced with is a kind of guilty pleasure in displaying, for the world to see, the bad things in Martha’s life, for the sake of an instant best seller.

Visit SaveMartha.com next week for the next installment of "Deconstructing Byron", which will look at the first chapter of the book, a chapter regrettably titled, Nancy Drew and the Case of the Hidden Childhood.

Also, visit The Pantry each month for a closer look at the cover subject of Martha Stewart Living Magazine with insightful articles that broaden the scope of the cover topic, written by Andrew Ritchie

Comments? Write to Andrew

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