I’m not sure if it was a coincidence that a few hours before opening up The Last Magazine, the posthumously published novel by the journalist Michael Hastings, I read an article about another young writer who died too soon in a car accident, Marina Keegan — but the two things felt connected. Sure, award-winning war corespondent Hastings was over a decade older than Keegan when he died in a car accident last June, and comparing a bestselling writer like Hastings to Keegan, who was a few weeks away from starting her first big staff job with The New Yorker, might not seem totally apt; but I couldn’t help think there was something that connected these two writers who died too young, and who had so much more to give us. Understandably, it made opening to the first pages of The Last Magazine a somewhat melancholy affair.
But from the first page to the last, the book that Hastings’ wife discovered among his unpublished work is really anything but somber, and much like Keegan’s collection published after her death, The Opposite of Loneliness, it serves as a great opportunity to celebrate the life and work of writers whose live were cut tragically short. In the case of Hastings, the established writer, however, it’s a different angle to look at him from.
Inspired by his early days as a burgeoning reporter for Newsweek at the start of the Iraq War, Hastings’s book is funny and also somewhat cringeworthy. We’re made to revisit the early days of George Bush 2’s pointless war — with which both we and the Iraqi people are still dealing — a time so many of us were still letting magazines help us decide how we felt about going to war. That’s why, in some ways, The Last Magazine serves as a media world version of Adelle Waldman’s popular novel about the lives and loves of Brooklyn’s literati, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. It leaves us to guess who the other characters are based off of; are they composites, or just thinly-veiled caricatures of talking heads we might see on MSNBC this evening?
The only difference is that the book’s main character is actually Michael Hastings. Unlike Waldman’s book, The Last Magazine has an undeniably autobiographical feel; that’s not saying Waldman didn’t experience anything from Nathaniel P. firsthand, but the book wasn’t told from the point of view of a character named Adelle Waldman. And it’s that autobiographical feel that could push copies of The Last Magazine into the hands of thousands of future j-school students, whether or not traditional magazines and newspapers stick round. It offers a glimpse into what very well could be the last days of what we tend to refer to as old or “Legacy” media, and it’s a great journalist giving a glimpse into how to climb that ladder from the bottom up, one that he undoubtedly would have scaled to greater heights had he not left us so soon.