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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.