Break in Case of Emergency

In Break in Case of Emergency, first-time novelist Jessica Winter balances an earnest exploration of a young woman's personal challenges with a snarky skewering of dysfunctional office culture.

After the economic collapse of 2008 and months of unemployment, Jen finally lands a job with the Leora Infinitas Foundation (LIFt). The nonprofit's mission to "empower women" is vaguely defined and haphazardly executed. Ideas lead to acronyms, and initiatives frequently lead nowhere as the board and senior management shift their short attention spans elsewhere. As her work feels increasingly pointless, Jen comes to suspect that the foundation's goals don't extend to empowering the women on its staff.

She's not feeling particularly emboldened by her life outside the office, either. She has set aside her artistic ambitions largely out of economic necessity; she and her husband, Jim, a high-school teacher, need two paychecks to make rent for their apartment in a not-yet-fashionable part of Brooklyn, and to continue their relationship with a fertility clinic for as long as necessary. Jen also struggles with her love for and envy of her best friends, Pam and Meg, as she contrasts their creative and financial successes with her own less promising circumstances.

Winter's depiction of Jen's workplace is biting. The fruitless meetings, the jargon, the jockeying and the suspicion that no one really knows what's going on are familiar elements exaggerated (one hopes) for comic effect. However, it's the rendering of Jen as a person both in and out of that workplace that gives the novel heart, and makes Break in Case of Emergency a smart, funny and affecting fiction debut. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's: Reading, Riting, and Randomness

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