RANDOM ACCESS is a family saga extending from World War II through the early 1980’s. It encompasses the family of Sol Kirchener (by blood) and his alternate “family” Kirchener & Associates (the advertising agency of which he is founder and president). It includes many characters (only a few mentioned here), but each impacts one another’s lives in powerful ways that drive this story forward with no wasted motion.
It starts when Sol is 18. Sol is trying to start his agency in his father’s cellar and sleeping with Sadi Rapp. Sadi is insecure, clingy, manipulative. Sol refuses to marry Sadi and passes Sadi on to his shy, inexperienced friend (Irving Salzburg) who marries her assuming (wrongly) that she loves him and is virgin. Sadi will long attempt to get Sol back. – Sol is sad at being drafted, but glad to be off the hook.
After the War, Sol goes to college on the GI Bill, works in large agency on Madison Avenue for experience, then starts his own agency. Sol is brilliant, good-looking, sexy, and is soon rich. The advertising he does is successful and all the stocks he buys go up. Sol strides down the streets of New York like a lion in his own jungle. In the summer of 1952, he is asked to teach a course in advertising and public relations at NYU (where he had gone only a few years before with a sandwich in a paper bag and holes in his socks).
Sol falls in love with a beautiful girl in his class (Dorothy). She is from a wealthy old southern family, educated at Bryn Mauer and is gifted artistically, but is emotionally unstable (this unknown to Sol). Sol sweeps her off her feet and they soon plan marriage. Because Sol is Jewish and Dorothy is Christian, they encounter attacks from his father and her parents.
Sol gives Dorothy everything materially, but little of his time once the honeymoon is over. They soon have a son (nicknamed Pip). Dorothy has two psychotic episodes (once when she is caring for Pip). Reluctantly, Sol has Dorothy committed to a mental institution (largely to protect Pip). Dorothy is released a year later, cured. Sol is still riddled with guilt and Dorothy feels Sol has betrayed her trust in him by putting her in such a horrible place. They still love each other, but Dorothy cannot give herself to Sol with the passion she once did. After a time, Sol rarely even tries to make love to her. They remain together for the sake of their child. Sol occasionally sleeps with call girls, but has no love involvements and wants none.
There is later enmity between Pip and Sol. Pip hates Sol for having once committed his mother. Also, Pip has effete characteristics and is sent away to military school by Sol “to make a man of him”. Ironically, it is there that Pip meets Asa Romberg and forms a homosexual relationship with him that lasts into adulthood.
Dorothy longs for reconciliation with Sol, but has developed a life of her own for survival. It is only a house of strangers that Sol leaves when he becomes involved with Jennifer Craddock (a beautiful, gifted woman, 18 years younger than Sol).
Jennifer Craddock (in her job interview with Sol) harps on her devotion to her career and independence. Then she inadvertently knocks over a cup of coffee on Sol’s desk and falls apart (revealing her vulnerability). Sol is now as intrigued with her as with her amazing portfolio and hires her (though he waits to move on his infatuation).
Jennifer soon becomes involved with Jerry Reicher (and account executive whom Sol is mentoring to become his partner). Jennifer nearly marries him, then fears that marriage would deprive her of ever becoming his professional equal. – It is Sol who plants this idea in her mind – Jennifer and Jerry live together instead. But with every difficulty in their relationship, Jennifer becomes more bonded with Sol. One of Jerry’s advertising campaigns is picked up by a competing ad agency and run on television. Sol accuses Jerry of stealing the campaign from the competing agency and fires him. Jerry cannot find work for a while and goes into depression. At first Jennifer is sympathetic, but later sees him as weak and ineffectual and turns more and more to Sol.
After a bitter quarrel, Jennifer and Jerry split. Later Jerry returns (drunk and disorderly in the lobby of their apartment building) causing Jennifer to be evicted. Anguished at the split and homeless too, Jennifer calls Sol, who “rescues” her. Dorothy is out of town. Their affair begins.
Jennifer makes a generous salary, but is still in debt. She spends all she has embelishing her image, but is tormented within. Jennifer goes to live with Frieda (Sol’s secretary) and Frieda’s mother in her pitiful apartment in the South Bronx. She has long looked down on Frieda, but is only Frieda who is there for her in this crisis. From this relationship comes a series of interlocking issues, including a relationship between Jennifer and Frieda’s brother Paolo.
Sol has hired Joe Rousse and become Joe’s mentor. – It is Joe who has secretly sabotaged Jerry Reicher. – Later, Joe will steal most of Sol’s clients and turn many of Sol’s employees against him (so they, too, will sabotage Sol’s agency) and then come to work for himself instead. This is not hard, since Joe has a friendly manner while Sol is all business with most, stern, and rarely gives raises. Joe pretends to be as “downtrodden” as many of the other employees and makes common cause with them. Joe is brilliant in his work, but is also sadistic and emotionally twisted. Later he will become involved with Frieda and nearly kill her.
When Sol loses his agency he goes through a psychotic period, visiting the mental “rooms” of his life. He is finally re-joined with Dorothy (on and off and then permanently). It is only now that he knows defeat and rejection (as she did so long ago). But he will also go through a regeneration, leaving him a finer man.
Pip leaves his teaching position at Berkley and takes the agency back from Joe Rousse (intending to return it to his father). Pip uses Joe’s flaws to do this (just as Joe once used Sol’s flaws to ruin him). Pip has dumped Asa Romberg and married a woman (Andrea). Asa is anguished, then vicious. Asa discovers that Pip’s agency has done some illegal “creative accounting” and blackmails Pip. Either Pip comes back to him or Asa will turn Pip in and send him to prison. Pip panics and contracts with a hit man (an old friend of Sol) to murder Asa. Days later, Pip is guilt-ridden and attempts to call it off, but it is too late. Pip turns himself in. Sol visits Pip in prison. Sol feels he has failed Pip as a father and his grief is great. Still, alone together in Pip’s grim little cell, it is the first time they have communicated with each other so deeply, for so long.
After Dorothy dies, Sol comes to Miami Beach where he meets Sadi again for the first time in decades. She and Irving are divorced. She is on her own here and has bought a small shop. She has become a Messianic Jew and has become a finer woman. They have both come a long way to get back to eachother.