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by Jessica Winter

Pub Date: July 12th, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-101-94613-8
Publisher: Knopf

Work woes and fertility issues, female friendships and marital challenges are among the factors at play in this satirical novel.

Some of the details of the day-to-day life of Jen, the overly accommodating protagonist of Winter’s debut novel, will sound all too familiar to many young women: the cavalier (not to say cruel) treatment she receives at the company where she works, a vanity charitable foundation that purports to empower women while robbing Jen of her own sense of self; the sweet husband she dearly loves yet wishes was more of an economic provider; the college friends she feels closest to but can’t help envying; the struggle to conceive a child—in Jen’s terms, a “hypothetical tiny future boarder”; and the squelched yearning for some kind of self-actualization, although Jen and her crew would probably dismiss the very concept as sounding too much like something Leora Infinitas, the TV sitcom star–cum-socialite who heads the nonprofit at which Jen works, would hold a board meeting to discuss. When she’s not toiling away at her pointless job—her chief duties are writing memos no one reads; devising acronyms no one likes; and reading the heartfelt, meandering musings of the privileged women Jen and her caustic-yet-caring work pal, Daisy, have dubbed “the Judys”—Jen makes art and is actually a gifted portraitist. Her work evokes the hidden, perhaps happy, perhaps sinister inner lives of her subjects, and over the course of the novel she finally begins to get a handle on her own inner life. While at times the story veers uneasily between the broadly farcical and intimately emotional, it gains momentum as it goes along. At a certain point, Winter’s hold on the plot, her characters, and, as a result, her readers becomes surer as it leads to its satisfying conclusion.

Half rollicking sendup of celebrity philanthropy and half meaningful meditation on marriage, friendship, family, and adulthood, Winter’s curious, captivating novel seems to teeter at times between split purposes but ultimately finds a pleasing balance.