Michael Hastings was a celebrated journalist and foreign correspondent who covered the Iraq War for Newsweek, but he was most famous for his 2010 Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, which forced the man to resign from his position as the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Hastings, who died in a car crash last June, published three nonfiction books, including I Lost My Love in Baghdad, which was about his fiancée Andi Parhamovich, who was killed in 2007 when her convoy was ambushed in Iraq. After his death, Hastings’ wife, Elise Jordan, discovered the manuscript of this bleakly humorous novel on his computer.
The Last Magazine is fiction, but it is narrated by an ambitious newsmagazine intern who shares the author’s name. The book’s other main character, A.E. Peoria, is a foreign correspondent who achieves fame for covering the war against Saddam Hussein. This pair allows us two vantage points from which to view a semifictionalized media as they bungle the coverage of the Iraq War and its aftermath. Near the end of the book Hastings-the-character describes his bosses as ”a bunch of clueless a–holes, egotistical, vainglorious, pompous, insecure, corrupt — you get the picture, right?” and by that point we have. Even Hastings’ dream of following in the footsteps of Peoria is an empty one. Peoria is a boozy whoremonger who, despite his success, is at the mercy of his superiors after he writes a story that embarrasses them. Overshadowing everything is the fear that the Internet may render the magazine’s reporters akin to ”a blacksmith in the days of Henry Ford’s assembly line…or a poet in 1991.”
Did Hastings-the-author lard his own experiences with comedic flourishes? We hope so, and certainly readers can enjoy the result as an out-and-out satire. But those familiar with the magazine biz will recognize the authentic whiff of life between the covers — even if the editors at Entertainment Weekly are, of course, much nicer than the fictionalized journalists depicted here. B+