The Assistants

On the 40th floor of his Midtown Manhattan headquarters, mass communications kingpin Robert Barlow 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 is the focus of Camille Perri's first novel, The Assistants.

As the big boss, Robert's expense reports don't get much scrutiny, so when she inadvertently submits one under her name and is reimbursed with a check for $20,000, 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. Some jokes miss, but they keep coming (like a good Simpsons episode), so the misses don't much matter. 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, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

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