When an ARC of Jessica Winter’s Break in Case of Emergency showed up in the mail, I was excited.
A book that is billed as a “smart, irreverent, blistering workplace satire set in the world of a non-profile feminist startup” could not have been more up my alley.
And it was. But I did not expect Winter to cut so close to the quick, either.
Break in Case of Emergency is Jen’s story. Jen has recently been laid off from a job that she loves. Eventually she finds a communications-type job at a feminist magazine/foundation hybrid that’s being funded by a celebutante and run by her group of sycophants. When she’s not at work, Jen and her husband, Jim, are hard at work on the ‘Project’.
At first, Jen and Jim worked on the Project in the traditional manner: by themselves, in secret, mostly at home. After about a year, they had tapped outside consultants with medical degrees to explore methods for expediting the Project. […] They referred to Jen’s many Project-related appointments as ‘trips to the henhouse’ and sometimes as ‘black-box testing.’ Jim’s significantly less frequent Project-related obligations were ‘swim meets’ or occasionally ‘speed trials’.
So while Jen and Jim are hard at work trying to start a family, Jen is also trying to find some kind of meaning in the work at her job. But the people that work there aren’t really interested in actually making a difference – they spend their time undermining each other, coming up with ridiculous acronyms for projects that never actually take off and ensuring that their leader, Leora, always feels suitably superior and fulfilled. Undermining her overall job satisfaction is the fact that Jen walked away from a promising career as an artist because it didn’t feel like a proper job.
This book was like a cross between The Devil Wears Prada and The Beautiful Bureaucrat. I really liked this book but at times it felt uncomfortably close to my own life. I guess such is the talent of Winter that she is able to elicit such feeling in her readers. I’ve worked in places like LIFt and I feel like sometimes I had PTSD episodes reading some of the workplace interactions Jen experiences. Oh they are hilarious and well-written but sometimes just too spot on, you know?
Break in Case of Emergency is an incredibly apt depiction of a 21st century 30-something life. After the freedom and nonchalance of her 20s, Jen is just trying to start her actual life but the roadblocks of career and family won’t quite let her. It is a fierce portrait of a woman trying to claim her spot in the world professionally and personally and, aside from the fact that I could have used a trigger warning for some parts, I really liked it.
Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. Any errors in quoting are due to coming from an uncorrected version.