The Assistants (Paperback)
On the 40th floor of his Midtown Manhattan headquarters, mass communications kingpin Robert Barlow berates his lieutenants, entertains clients and scans an office wall of global news screens. A Texas Longhorn by education and temperament who speaks in bunkhouse wisdom ("Just because a chicken has wings don't mean it can fly"), Robert is a larger-than-life composite of every media gazillionaire in New York City. Outside his door sits his smaller-than-life executive assistant, Tina Fontana, a daughter of Italian grocers in the Bronx who put herself through New York University to earn an English degree and $20,000 in student loan debt. She got the assistant's job because Robert decided at their first meeting that he could trust her--always to put through calls from his former cheerleader wife, to refill the ice bucket for his client-schmoozing Herradura Tequilas, and to fill out his personal expenditure reimbursement forms. She is the focus of Camille Perri's first novel, The Assistants.
As the big boss, Robert's expense reports don't get much scrutiny (Tina prepared one for a $2,500 set of golf clubs he once bought at a country club pro shop because he left his at the hotel), so when she inadvertently submits one under her name and is reimbursed with a check for $20,000 ("this minuscule-to-them-yet-life-changing-for-me amount of money"), she falls into temptation and uses the money to pay off her debt. Emily, another assistant working in the audit department, catches the error and confronts Tina--not with exposure and possible termination for theft, but with a request that she continue gaming the system to skim enough money to pay off her student debt. Soon the head of accounting, Margie, uncovers their scam, but also gives them a pass if they work the same process to pay off her assistant's student loans. And this is how a quasi-altruistic Madoff/Ponzi scheme takes root.
It's great fun, and Perri (former books editor for a magazine and a YA ghostwriter) freewheels enough millennial savvy, parenthetical asides and clever repartee to give Girls a run for its money. She even throws in hottie Kevin "Handsome" in Legal for Tina to obsess over. Some jokes miss, but they keep coming (like a good Simpsons episode), so the misses don't much matter. Never mind that poking fun at executive assistants and their bosses is like kicking dinosaur bones--the era of EAs is all but over since every future CEO kid with a cellphone can auto-load his own calendar and smart-pay his expenses. Nor does Perri ask why young liberal arts majors choose to take on huge student debts and live in one of the country's most expensive cities. Her set-up is too sweet to quibble over details. Rather, we should just sit back and let a smart, funny writer entertain.— Bruce Jacobs
Author Camille Perri claims The Assistants is social commentary wrapped in the guise of chick lit, and she's not wrong. Tina Fontana, assistant to a media mogul, is a reluctant hero, even in her own life. She knows when to jump by the tone in her boss Robert's voice; she knows how to lie low, and she knows how to navigate NYC. In short, she's the perfect nobody to the ever-present somebody at the top. Just like a good assistant should be.
It's not until Tina has the opportunity to (unethically) clear her student debt that the albatross around her neck is removed, and she discovers herself, her friends, and an opportunity that her previous self would've never imagined. The novel is a near battle cry for the community of those beleaguered by student debt, a call for collectivism even as its setting is against the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Tina's spirited character is charming, if not meek at first. Reading Perri's novel is to watch Tina grow from a lowly assistant to a woman of her own right; she wields the keys to her own kingdom, as opposed to simply pouring the drinks for those in power. This novel has all the trappings of a perfect beach read: it's light and full of hope. Think 9 to 5 meets Smokey and the Bandit - and for those who miss the 1980s movie references, think Andy from The Devil Wears Prada meets the grit and gumption of Hannah from Girls. You *need* this book in your bag this summer.— Shelly Walston
The debut novel that J. Courtney Sullivan calls "addictive, hilarious, and smart. It's "9 to 5 for the student loan generation" and Publishers Weekly describes as "if the characters from HBO's Girls were capable of larceny and blackmail." 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?
About the Author
Camille Perri is the author of The Assistants. She has worked as a books editor for Cosmopolitan and Esquire. She has also been a ghostwriter of young-adult novels and a reference librarian. She holds a bachelor of arts degree from New York University and a master of library science degree from Queens College. Perri wrote the first draft of The Assistants while working as the assistant to the editor-in-chief of Esquire. From the Hardcover edition.