As I sit down to write my first ever “official” book review for Shih Tzus and Book Reviews, I’m sure that I’ve made a huge mistake. You see, I’m not a writer. I’ve never been good making my words sound pretty or thoughts just flow together. Prose? What’s that? I almost failed US History because the idea of writing a paper gave me such anxiety. I put them all off until the last two weeks of the semester, then paid my brother to do it for me. He got
me an A-.
Truth be told, I’m just a girl who likes to read. A lot. I live to TALK about books to anyone that will listen, really. I’ve been told that I write like I talk: rapid fire and interrupting one thought to interject another as it pings in my brain. Here, I’ll do my best to organize my thoughts into a comprehensive, flowy review.
With all that said, now you can’t judge my writing style because, well…you’ve been warned. So here are my thoughts on “Careers for Women” by Joanna Scott.
While Careers for Women has an intriguing premise (hello, working women in NYC in the 50s! Mad Men anyone?), Scott’s writing style will certainly not be for everyone, myself included. The two story lines weave in and out again throughout the novel, in a disorganized manner, with a lot of information thrown at you really quickly. Also, instead of telling the story in the order that it happens, Scott seems to bounce randomly between the different stories and timelines. Basically, instead of the sections going A, B, C, D, she tells the story more like M, Z, A, F, X, B. I would finally feel like I understood how the plots were related to each other, and it would flip again to another person in another time frame.
By the end, Scott does tie up the loose ends and bring the two stories together, but I couldn’t help feeling the whole story was very anti-climactic. I struggled to find the words to talk about my feelings on the book because I spent most of it being thrown between story lines and periods. The lack of a traditional timeline made it hard for me to enjoy.
Another issue I had with CfW: the majority of the book is from Maggie’s point of view, yet I never felt connected to her. Reading the cover blurb on the book, it makes you think that the story is about Maggie and her realization of the evils of the world, how things are never what they seem, that everyone has secrets and will go to extreme lengths to keep them that way..except this story isn’t even really Maggie’s. It’s about Pauline and her shameful past, how she is tricked by a selfish man and spends the rest of her life trying to do right by her daughter. I couldn’t help but be annoyed at the lack of justice served to this poor young girl, who was so strong and determined. No, she isn’t an innocent, but she definitely has a rough go of it. I was just as annoyed with the ending of the book. What happened to Maggie? Did she ever marry? How long did she stay in the Public Relations office? Even though her own story wasn’t the main point of the book, I still would have liked to have had it tied up with a neat bow.
Fun Fact: one of the lead characters, Lee K. Jaffe is based on the real Mrs. J!
I give this novel 3 stars. While the idea was there, the writing style just wasn’t for me. I struggled to keep up at first and then I just wanted to read without having to think so much! Plus, there were all these little excerpts of conversations between random people that didn’t seem necessary either. While they did add an extra idea into what was happening outside of the main characters, it was just another distraction from the story. I would have rather spent more time reading about the characters, who I thought were underdeveloped.
==FULL REVIEW WITH SPOILERS==
Careers for Women begins with three women in the late 1950s. Maggie Gleason is new to New York City, having recently moved from her cozy home in Cleveland in hopes of finding a husband and starting a career at the Port Authority Office of Public Relations. Her boss is the charismatic and legendary Lee K. Jaffe, better known as Mrs. J. Mrs. J. is really just a BOSS, like a total bad@$$ (can I say that here?) who you immediately like and wish you could work for. She treats her employees with respect and genuinely cares about them. Her goal is to guide her female employees through the difficulties of becoming a successful working woman in a time when women weren’t assumed leaders.
A few years after Maggie begins working at the P.A., Mrs. J. is giving a tour to a group of journalists. They come upon an arrest of local prostitutes, and Mrs. J. notices a young woman in the group that stands out to her (probably because she’s wearing a tiara). She convinces the police to let the her go free and offers the tiara-wearing prostitute her business card and tells her to call if she ever needs a job. Enter Pauline Moreau: a persistent and courageous single mom. Pauline is willing to do whatever it takes (clearly…I mean, she was a prostitute) to provide for Sonia, her daughter with special needs from complications during birth. Pauline is hired as a receptionist and taken under Mrs. J.’s wing. Sensing that she could use a support system, Mrs. J. urges Maggie to befriend Pauline and look after her and Sonia.
Mrs. J. continues promoting her idea of the world’s tallest towers (eventually the World Trade Center buildings!) construction in the Port Authority while Maggie becomes closer with Pauline and Sonia.
“Safe even in event of a collision with a large jet airliner traveling at 600 mph”
-Mrs. J, discussing the World Trade Center buildings
As the story unfolds, we learn more about how Pauline came to New York City and her dark, troubled past that brought her to such dire circumstances when she met Mrs. J. As the years pass, her life becomes more stable and all seems well. One weekend, Pauline goes on a trip, leaving her daughter with Maggie. After weeks pass without her return and no contact, Maggie comes to terms that Pauline isn’t coming back and is probably dead. Maggie steps up and assumes responsibility for Sonia, even sacrificing a possible marriage proposal to protect Sonia. All the while, Maggie herself isn’t even fully educated of Pauline’s murky past and what could have happened to her.
The second story line follows the Whittaker family.
Following an explosion in an aluminum plant, we jump back in time again to introduce the Whittakers. Bob Whittaker is married to Kay, who has a son from a previous marriage. Bob works at Alumacore as an accountant, doing whatever it takes to make the books look good to keep his bosses happy. A young typist catches Bob’s eye, and in his foolishness, he begins an affair that results in an unwanted pregnancy. He pays the girl off and tells her to leave and never return.
Meanwhile, Bob’s cooking of the books begins to raise eyebrows and he is relocated to oversee a new aluminum plant in Visby, NY. He’s really rolling in the dough at his new job, while Kay works to create an aluminum mansion fit for a queen. When this is finished, she’s not quite sure what to do with herself, so she begins to medicate her boredom with Valium and vodka.
As time goes on, the Visby locals start to notice strange things happening in their town. Farm animals are suffering unexplained injuries, there are mutant amphibians in the waters surrounding the factory, and humans are suffering from unexplained ailments and serious illnesses resulting in death. Their blame goes to the new aluminum plant, or more specifically, the waste it produces and the poisonous fumes it expels. After years of suspicions, an investigation finds that Alumacore has been pumping waste into the local water supplies.
Back to Pauline:
After a few years of struggling to make ends meet, Pauline decides it’s time for a change. She realizes that she has been duped, asked to disappear and raise a child alone, with only a suitcase of cash from the father. And with that, our two story lines reunite! Pauline tracks Bob down in his aluminum mansion and just like that, he’s giving her
hush money child support. This goes on for 5 years and the whole time, Bob keeps hoping to restart his affair with Pauline. After all, his wife IS passed out drunk every night when he comes home from work. What’s a man to do?! Well, Pauline isn’t having anymore of Bob’s mess and you can guess how her rejections eventually affect Bob..*dun dun dunnn*!
The book wraps up with Bob confessing his sins to his wife-she confronts him about having another affair and he caves and tells her the truth, which is actually much worse. After a back and forth, their fight ends up at the aluminum plant, where Kay plans to blow the whole thing up-literally. After the fire starts, there is a brief scuffle and they both fall to their death as the plant explodes.
THE END (of the book.)
Have you read Careers for Women? If so, or if you’ve made it this far and now know all the spoilers, let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Make sure to sign up for updates so you always know what new books to add (or not) to your TBR stack.
k, bye! -Taylor
==ABOUT THE AUTHOR==
From the backcover:
Joanna Scott is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Rochester. She has also taught in the creative writing programs at Princeton University and the University of Maryland. She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship during the writing of Arrogance.