The amount of time we spend on the job—the getting ready for, the getting-to, the getting-from, the long hours doing it and the longer hours worrying about it—make JIllian Medoff’s smart, funny novel, THIS COULD HURT, especially pertinent.
The author has penned a comedic love letter to the workplace at a time when morbid satires, spoofs, and putdowns have become the fashion. Her proposition is salutary—work can be the place where we grow into our better selves … if we let it.
The workplace in this case is Ellery Consumer Research, a mid-level marketing firm in New York. We follow five Human Resources managers, four of whom jockey for position in the orbit surrounding the fifth—their boss, Rosalita Guerrero.
Rosa is chief of HR and executive vice president. At 64 she is smart, visionary, thorough, and intimately attuned to the moods, talents, and shortcomings of the four who report to her. She protects them as best she can—sometimes from themselves and, more recently, from the firm’s downsizing on the heels of the 2008 crash. They, in turn, admire and love her.
Lately, though, each of the four has been slipping. Rob, a husband and father at home, is a man-child at work; he plays games on his Blackberry. Lucy, Rob’s “office wife,” has lost her edge and, at 39, worries about having forgone love and children for a career. Ken, a brilliant MBA, harbors resentments—always with his eye on the next chance. And Leo is lovelorn, lonely, and overly dependent on Rosa.
The story moves seamlessly back and forth among all five, each endearing, frustrating and, at times, hilarious. Then, unexpectedly, the department receives a blow, jeopardizing its smoothly run operation. How each character responds to the crisis revs up plot. Will they put the team first, pulling together and supporting each other? Or will they undercut one another, placing themselves first? What is primarily a character-oriented novel turns into a page-turner.
I know I’m lucky, but I’ve always loved my work environment, not necessarily the places I worked at but always the people I worked with—which, perhaps, is why Medoff’s novel speaks so powerfully to me. Rosa tells her staff: “we’re not family, but we need to act like one.” I get that on a gut level.
If we’re lucky, if our managers know how to manage—granted, a big if—then loyalty, trust, honesty, and commitment will follow. And all those hours consumed by our work lives end up meaning something, shaping who we are in the best way possible. This Could Hurt is an insightful, often funny, uplifting novel, and one I highly recommend.
A former college English instructor, Molly developed LitLovers after teaching an online literature course several years ago. It was so much fun—even the students loved it—that she decided to take it public. If Molly’s not working on LitLovers, she’s sleeping.