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

Vol. 5 – The Page Turns

At the back of Martha Inc., in his acknowledgements, Chris Byron thanks the 50-odd people he interviewed for the book, including his wife and researcher, and invites readers of the book to review the source notes for details as to where the information came from, how it was interpreted and why.

In the source notes for Chapter 4, "The Page Turns," there is no mention of how or why Chris Byron was able to psychoanalyze Martha Stewart based on a mere seven source entries, two of which come from Martha’s published remembrances.

And yet, that’s precisely what he does throughout this chapter, playing psychologist, marriage counselor, scolding commentator and fiction storyteller. Perhaps researching a woman as "complex and many-faceted" as Martha Stewart, as she is described in his Acknowledgements, made Chris realize how one-dimensional his book would be without Martha’s cooperation and felt the need to reinvent himself; Dr. Chris Byron does have a nice ring to it, after all.

In this chapter, Byron sinks his teeth and claws into that pesky media prototype of Martha Stewart that has become so tired and overdone by just about every desperate hack in media today; the domineering control freak, the ill-tempered perfectionist, the evil wife from hell. It all rings so superficially shallow that it’s difficult to get through the chapter without yawning. He reduces this incredibly individualistic woman, yet again, to the caricature we’ve seen on countless tabloids, countless times in countless shades of yellow journalism, repeated like some celluloid recurring nightmare.

There is nothing in this chapter that has anything to do with her company or her ambition. Instead, it’s a harsh retelling of resentment and anger, courtesy of two of Martha’s former affections: her ex-husband, Andy Stewart, and her ex-friend, Kathy Tatlock. Between the two of them, the image that emerges of Martha is monstrous and almost demonic.

Byron interprets the interviews with Andy and Kathy in verbose, Freudian hogwash:

"People live their lives on the basis of their learned experiences, and Martha appeared to be no exception. Fixing up the house on Turkey Hill became, in some ways, the reinvention of all that she disliked about her own childhood. Reading from the script of domineering and controlling criticism that she had learned from her father, she had already begun blaming and belittling her husband for failing in his presumed role of being the family’s breadwinner."

One wonders what script Chris Byron was reading from when he embarked on his little Martha project; the one in which it’s okay to impersonate a professional psychiatrist or therapist and draw all sorts of conclusions about a woman you barely know? Or maybe the one that says it’s okay to make money off another’s misfortune and reputation?

There are at least three or four other entries in the chapter that seek to get inside Martha’s head and shrink its vast complexity down to palatable platitudes, and it’s all based on interviews with people who now have nothing to do with Martha Stewart, who left her sphere of companions ages ago. I’m not sure what’s more upsetting: the fact that these sources find it necessary to continuously regurgitate negative statements about a woman they haven’t spoken to in years, or the fact that people are so willing to sit and listen to it, over and over again, believing every word, tilting their gullible heads gently towards the spoon.

There really is very little relevance to this chapter on the road of Martha’s journey into the media stratosphere, other than to note that the Stewarts purchased Turkey Hill in Westport, Connecticut in 1971 and began to fix up the home, which was in need of serious repair. There are long-winded anecdotes recalling scenes where Martha chastised Andy for one bit of trivia or another, all intended to make the reader salivate over the wretched little details of the unhappiness in Martha’s life.

But it’s nothing new. It’s nothing particularly exciting and it’s not even worth repeating because it’s so far from a reflection of adequate or balanced biographical writing that it’s almost laughable. To put it simply, it’s a crude, one-dimensional sketch of a woman who simply cannot be understood or properly written about by the likes of Chris Byron, the New York Post’s "alpha male," albeit an aged one. Let’s hope "The Page Turns" in his Martha-centric career to another, more-deserving sacrificial lamb: Osama Bin Laden, perhaps?


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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