17 February 2007

Book Review: Because She Can by Bridie Clark

Because She Can
By Bridie Clark
Warner Books
Hachette Book Group
274 pages
$23.00 Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-446-57924-7

What would you endure to have everything you’ve ever dreamed of? In her first novel, Because She Can, Bridie Clark tackles the classic “overcoming adversity and cruel boss” trope, only she does it with tasteful flair and laugh-out-loud humor. Claire Truman’s job is in jeopardy, her latest love interest turned out to be as much of a loser as the rest, and her best friend wants to drag her to a high society function when she’d rather sit on her couch and indulge in the deliciously cliché week-long obligatory break-up mope. After playing the socialite at the opening of an art gallery, Claire’s life changes almost over night: she starts dating the very eligible bachelor Randall Cox (her college crush and previously dubbed “Pabst Blue Ribbon” by the friends) who sweeps her into the upper crust, and she takes a job with the a big name publishing house as an editor for the infamous Vivian Grant, rumored to be the most dangerous woman in publishing. After warnings from her mentor, family, friends, and colleagues, Claire weighs the potential benefits of doing her time at Grant Books and decides that career advancement in the competitive world of publishing is worth whatever Grant can throw at her. In the mean time, Claire’s romance with Randall Cox moves on fast forward toward happily ever after—or so everyone thinks.

Because She Can certainly sets itself apart among the recently repopularized “boss is evil” genre, but this novel is not about glorifying the cruelty of an employer so much as it is about the strength, intelligence, and internal resilience of a woman able to capitalize on any opportunity presented to her—no matter how overwhelming. Whatever you do, don’t let “Villainous Boss Malaise” keep you from this novel; if you do, you’ll miss the differences that make this novel stand out so successfully—in fact, you’ll miss the entire point. The heroine, Claire Truman, is not a naive greenhorn suddenly thrust into the scary world of executive business with a boss who Torquemada would applaud—she’s an smart professional who accepts a job with a rumored tyrant with open eyes, and knowingly prepares herself for exactly twelve months of exhaustion, late hours, and psychological abuse all with the knowledge that regardless of the questionable stability of her boss, her term with Grant Books will further her career in ways that a lateral move in the field never could. Vivian Grant and her eccentrically cruel behavior are catalysts for story progression, true, but Claire’s careful navigation through her balancing act between advancing in a career and thriving relationship is what makes this story and these characters so addictive. Claire dives in and learns everything she possibly can—good and bad—from Vivian Grant and her colleagues at Grant Books, while other heroines in this genre spend the length of a novel overcoming self esteem issues in regards to their career, body image, and personal worth. Clark’s heroine recognizes her own potential before she accepts the position and even squares off with her future boss over her initial contract offer (much higher than Grant actually expected to pay out). Because She Can isn’t a how-to guide on how to weather abuse for the good of your career—it’s a treatise on knowing when enough is enough, in both the career and social worlds, and acting on it.

Bridie Clark gives us a novel that is as much about deftly handling potentially explosive female working relationships as it is about translating those skills in a personal setting. Not only refreshing in its approach, Because She Can is genuinely funny and inspirational. Clark’s Characters are memorable and carefully written to project their distinct personalities, and yet are so recognizable that it becomes difficult for readers not to see their own coworkers and friends in these roles. Each character—even odious Vivian Grant—is accessible. Because She Can manages to convey an uplifting message of self confidence and risk taking without bludgeoning the audience over the head—not an easy task in today’s sound bite culture.

~Review by D.M. Papuga