Sunday 22 April 2018

Fiction: Break in Case of Emergency by Jessica Winter

Borough Press, €16.99

Break In Case of Emergency
Break In Case of Emergency

Anne Cunningham

Jessica Winter's first novel is the story of Jen, a 30-something art graduate who is making a living working for a women's non-profit "empowerment" foundation, spearheaded by Hollywood celebrity Leora Infinitas. Jen lives in the wrong end of Brooklyn, is married to a schoolteacher, and has taken an office job to fund the baby she desperately wants and the fertility treatment she needs. It's not happening though, and Jen stumbles through her workdays with rapidly expiring joy. Although we're rooting for her, she's a compulsive sycophant, and there are plenty of cringe-inducing scenes between Jen and her nut job boss, Karina.

Jen's friends are wealthier and, it seems, more fulfilled. Her husband is a dear, but one who doesn't get paid during school holidays. She is barely making ends meet. Which probably describes about half of the female population of the western world, so what makes this story special? Well, along with her attention to the humdrum minutiae of the white-collar worker with the dead-end job, the author has created Jen as a kind of Everywoman, or at least as lots of women. Winters also has a gift for farce, exposing the genuine comedy contained within in our tiny, personal, workaday tragedies.

The Leora Infinitas Foundation (LIFt for short) has been described by the author in a recent interview as a "typical celebrity-foundation shit show", where philanthropic-minded celebrities hire office space and staff and chair endless meetings about noble causes, but where absolutely nothing ever gets done. She writes from first-hand knowledge of these "shit-shows", reporting on such things for TIME magazine and as features editor with current-affairs magazine Slate. Her debut novel is half-satire, half serious social commentary, wholly engaging.

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