Last month an old colleague, Rust Hills, died in Belfast, Maine, of cardiac arrest. Rust was eighty-three and had been ailing, and we received the news of his death with a mixture of sorrow and relief that the end was quick and that right up to it there were moments a confirmed hedonist like Rust could enjoy. He was summering in Maine and had just eaten a piece of blueberry pie and was going for a rest, when he collapsed on the stairs. So, at the end, there was summer in Maine and fresh blueberries—images of a life well lived, which, along with fiction editing, was Rust’s passion and primary pursuit.
A self-styled “fussy man” and noted curmudgeon, Rust was one of the great readers of his time. He was an incisive editor and a durable proponent of fiction and of the authors he saw into print during his decades at Esquire, which retained its literary aura by virtue of Rust’s continued association long after the magazine’s new publisher, Hearst, abandoned Esquire’s literary tradition. By the time Rust retired in 1999, Esquire had became simply another men’s magazine, focusing on a variable quotient of style, sex, sports, topicality, and manner, written and edited to succeed with an audience somewhat older and smarter than Maxim’s and somewhat edgier than GQ’s. Between these and similar genre magazines the distinctions are market oriented and quasi-journalistic rather than literary.