A (very) Brief Plot Overview
The story focuses on a year in the life of Jen, a 30-something New Yorker who takes up a job at a charitable start up led by an eccentric celebrity and her band of nodding, hipster sidekicks that seems to talk the talk but doesn’t actually do anything. During this year, Jen also navigates fertility struggles that impact her relationship with her husband Jim and her two best friends, artist Pam and well off Meg.
What’s great about it?
First of all, every character in this is really well written. Sometimes novels with artistic characters tend to portray the artsy characters in a really stereotypical, 2-dimensional way – flighty, hard to pin down, kind of annoying – but Jessica Winter makes all of her characters human. Even the bitchy, clique-y women that Jen works with have something about them that pushes them past the boundary of just the two faced office annoyance. Every character, even Jen herself, has flaws that make you dislike them a little, which I find refreshing. Gone are the whimsical yet intelligent yet quirky yet aloof yet friendly yet ditsy protagonists of the past. I welcome realistic portrayals of people in literature and I feel like this is something Jessica Winter really nails.
At times, the satirical writing in this book is toe curling and hysterical. When the story focuses on Jen’s workplace, the writing hooks me. It has me grimacing and biting my tongue as if I am Jen herself. You know exactly the type of people who are like colleagues of Jen – they litter Instagram as influencers who talk about finding your purpose in life, charitable giving and selflessness, all whilst trying to flog you a diet tea and a 40% discount for an online clothing retailer. For me, these parts are by far the best parts of the book because they provoked a real reaction in me as the reader. The work sections offer the most interesting dialogue, relatable content and are a really thought provoking social commentary.
A running theme of the book is fertility issues and I felt like this was handled really well. Reading Jen’s internal passages about her feelings surrounding her fertility struggles are parts that really connect you to the character. At times, Jen’s refusal to use ‘proper terminology’ came across a little confusing, but I mostly found these parts to be really well written and really honest. Writing about such personal and emotive topics such as miscarriage and fertility treatments can’t be easy, but I feel like Jessica Winter handled these issues really respectfully and provided a brilliant insight into a difficult situation.
What’s not so great about it?
This book took me a little while to get into, which is unusual for me as I normally hook pretty easily. There’s something about reading that first 50 pages that felt a little like hard work. I grew to like Jen as a character the more I pursued with the book, but at first she seemed like someone who was setting out the world around her as if it were against her. This meant that I knew where the story would end up before it had even really got going. There were no shocks other than how long Jen managed to keep her cool in situations that would have had me erupting like a mint in a bottle of Coca Cola. The interactions at Jen’s workplace were enough to keep me entertained until the end, but other than that there was nothing that set me alight when reading this.
A solid 7/10. I wouldn’t ring my mum to tell her that she HAD to read this book, but I’d lend her it if she asked for something new to read.