A corporate novel chronicles a young woman’s meteoric rise at a coal mining company.
Francine Boyers struggles to find work at an investment bank despite having earned an MBA—her background in coal mining engineering makes her an unconventional employment prospect. But an old friend of her father’s, Jim O’Hara, runs a successful coal mining company, and is on the hunt for a new personal assistant. Francine scores the job and is quickly thrust into a frenetically paced corporate environment; she moves into a company apartment where Jim spends his work week, meets him every morning at 6, and endures challengingly long hours. But Francine immediately proves to be unusually quick on her feet and rises through the ranks with astonishing speed. Her friend Nancy Smith neatly sums up her preternatural talent for solving problems: “And you have that special gift of knowing what to do when nobody else does.” Francine gets caught in the middle of an internecine tug of war within the company between her boss, the ultimate advocate of the bottom line, and Ted, an idealistic environmentalist and Jim’s archnemesis on the board. She also helps the company battle the Environmental Protection Agency, whose invasive regulations threaten to confiscate the jobs of coal miners. Inundated with work, Francine longs to find the time for romance, and a suitable partner to boot. As her career skyrockets, she ultimately finds herself enmeshed in a corporate conspiracy, with the continued existence of the company—and her own reputation—on the line. Schwartz (Maarten Maartens, 2016, etc.) builds the tense plot around Francine’s character, a memorable heroine who combines talent with uncompromising integrity. The novel also includes a running commentary on the now topical debates over coal as an energy source, which is both informative and insightful. In addition, while the book as a whole in unabashedly pro-coal, it never reduces itself to a strident manifesto, and fairly represents its naysayers. Francine’s breakneck ascendancy seems almost unbelievably fast, but the author not only makes it eminently plausible, he inspires the reader to cheer her on as well.
A dramatically taut tale propelled by artful characterization and political relevance.