The Assistants by Camille Perri
This is a story for the age of “Girls” and “The Interns Handbook“. Writing from her own experience, Perri sets her fantasy in a slice of the real life of working women in the early 21st; a life of debt, low pay, and stupidly abusive bosses. It is telling that what should be a frothy story about privileged (white) college educated young women is a tale of perpetual debt and little hope.
The “assistants” work for childishly gormless male bosses, and as such, they do all the work and are the only ones who actually know how to do the work. Perri gives us a picture of unhappy women, trapped by into wage slavery. And these are the lucky ones, who have stable jobs.
This background is the basis for the whole story, which involves an improbable series of event that leads the ‘assistants’ to, ahem, ‘reallocate’ some of the shamelessly wasted corporate money to pay off overhanging student loans. The relief is palpable, it is a fresh start for these women.
Remember, this is a fantasy: you really, really should not try this at your own work place.
The protagonist, Tina Fontana, struggles with this problematic robin hood approach, which she is forced into by a cadre of ‘assistants’. Eventually, through the dynamics of contemporary social media, things get farther out of hand as she stumbles into a new social enterprise.
The happy ending may inspire some ‘kids’ to emulate Tina’s gang, preferably without corporate politics, embezzlement and blackmail. I would recommend going directly to crowdfunding.
The main story is about how Tina is thrust into leadership of this crazy mess, and demonstrates her own skills are far more than merely ‘assistant’. In fact, her whole posse grow and demonstrate serious competence. The vivid contrast with their idiotic male bosses is clear.
This is Perri’s first novel and I think we can be sure that Perri is writing what she knows, with a bit of wish fulfillment thrown in (Tina does ‘win’ and does get her man.) It isn’t pleasant reading some of the psychology between the assistant and her powerful male boss, but maybe Perri is telling it like it really is.
I liked the story, and was rooting for the assistants, even if I cringed at some of the really poor choices they made. You go, girls!
- Camille Perri, The Assistants, New York, G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2016.
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