Wry account of a sexual harassment lawsuit that’s really a captivating, suspenseful love letter to American middle management, from Fortune columnist Bing, who (as CBS executive Gil Schwartz) has lived it.
Beautiful, pleasant, a bit sexy, and amazingly competent CaroleAnne Winter isn’t all she seems. An office temp hired at Global Fiduciary Trust, an international investment firm based in Chicago, CaroleAnne performs so well that she’s immediately hired as personal assistant to Robert Harbert, the blandly inspiring, comfortably married Executive Vice President in charge of Total Quality. As Human Resources Vice President Fred Tell looks on, Harb comes to adore his new secretary. He pulls every string he can to give her raises, help her escape her abusive marriage, find a better apartment. He even gives her his old sedan so he can buy himself a new BMW. In return, CaroleAnne becomes his trusted lieutenant, setting up meetings, taking notes, even walking barefoot on his spine when his back goes out—though the relationship is perfectly chaste. Still, there’s something odd about CaroleAnne: she has “prayer sessions” with another employee, and she keeps a secret notebook. Then, when a change in the economic climate causes cutbacks in Harb’s department, leaving her (and her boss) with little to do, CaroleAnne suddenly hands in her resignation. Unfortunately, she’s been such a good employee, no one wants to fire her. After refusing reassignment, she complains that she’s been subject to relentless sexual harassment and sues Global for $150 million. Second-novelist Bing (Lloyd: What Happened, 1998) never lets us doubt that CaroleAnne is a nut case, and, as the trial proceeds, the real focus shifts to Harb, whose life is at first destroyed and then, miraculously, reborn. CaroleAnne becomes a pathetic stand-in for all who hate big business, while Harb’s astonishing transformation shows that there’s more to life than unlimited expense accounts, stock options, and the cozy certainties of corporate culture.
While its ending is foreordained (and a bit pat), the story succeeds marvelously in its seasoned appreciation of the many pleasures—and perils—of executive life. (See the July 15 issue of Kirkus for The Big Bing.)