Rule #1: All important men have assistants. Read more...
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Rule #1: All important men have assistants. Rule #2: Men rule the world. Still. Rule #3: There is enough money. There is so much money. Tina Fontana is a thirty-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the CEO of Titan Corp., a multinational media conglomerate. She's excellent at her job and beloved by her famous boss--but after six years of making reservations and pouring drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, the glamour of working for a media company in New York has completely faded, but her student loan debt has not. When a technical error with Robert's expense report presents Tina with the opportunity to pay off the entire balance of her loans with what would essentially be pocket change for her boss, she hesitates. She's always played by the rules, but this would be a life-changer. As Tina begins to fall down the rabbit hole of her morally questionable plan, other assistants with crushing debt and fewer scruples approach her to say that they want in. Before she knows it, she's at the forefront of a movement that has implications far beyond what anyone anticipated. Featuring an eclectic clan of coconspirators, a love interest far too handsome to be trusted, and a razor-sharp voice full of wry humor, The Assistants is a rallying cry for the leagues of overeducated and underpaid women who are asking themselves, How is it that after all these years, we are still assistants?
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-02-08
- Reviewer: Staff
If the characters from HBO’s Girls were capable of larceny and blackmail, they could be the main characters of Perri’s sharp first novel. At age 30, Tina Fontana is the executive assistant to media titan Robert Barlow (think Rupert Murdoch, but with a Texas accent) in New York City. A clerical error on her expense account results in a $20,000 check for Tina, enough to pay off her student loan, which she impulsively decides to do. When a colleague, Emily Johnson, stumbles onto Tina’s once-only scam, she talks Tina into performing the same financial prestidigitation for her. Emily also ends up becoming Tina’s roommate. In no time, they become the victims of numerous blackmail attempts as other assistants want to have their college loans paid off courtesy of an unknowing Barlow. Things escalate beyond Tina’s control, ultimately threatening her relationship with her new boyfriend, Kevin, a hunky lawyer who is also in Barlow’s employ. How Tina extricates herself from the situation forms the moral crux of this entertaining slice of millennial life. Perri has a gift for the glib one-liner, and reserved Tina and glamorous Emily make for a great pairing, resulting in smart and fresh novel. (May)
Striking back at the system
First, we had The Devil Wears Prada, written by a former assistant at Vogue. Now comes The Assistants, a novel by Camille Perri, a former assistant to Esquire’s editor-in-chief, which similarly shines a light on the underpaid gatekeepers to the one percent. The difference in this book is that our heroine gets ahead by illicit means. This isn’t exactly the stuff fluffy romances are made of—it owes more to Robin Hood, or maybe Bonnie and Clyde, if Bonnie left Clyde in the car and distributed her spoils among her friends.
In The Assistants, 30-year-old Tina Fontana works for fictional titan Robert Barlow. Robert is capitalism personified: He’s cutthroat in the boardroom, but generous at home. He drops businessmen who cross him, but loves his wife. He manipulates the media, but oozes Southern charm in real life. Tina dedicates herself to him, masters his schedule and earns his trust.
But Tina also owes thousands in student loans, and she realizes that no matter how hard she works, earning $50K a year in Manhattan will never let her get out from under it. Her friends, almost exclusively assistants, are in the same boat. They attended expensive colleges only to land in a job market that has them running errands and cutting cocktail limes for the rich and famous. As they watch their bosses spend massive amounts on expensive meals, jewelry and liquor, it’s no wonder they’re tempted to reach for the money that literally passes through their fingers.
Perri, who has also worked as a books editor for Cosmopolitan, has an assured voice and grounds her story and characters well. The Assistants is an economic fable, a story of class warfare dressed up as chick lit. We have the familiar heroine, the love interest, a quirky band of 20-something girlfriends and a New York City setting complete with cheap apartments and expensive cocktails. But the real story is Tina’s search for justice and compensation for her hard work—a timely theme in a world where so many expensive college educations yield underpaid menial jobs and years of unpaid internships. Powerful people of the world, take notice: The assistants will have their revenge.