by Camille Perri
Basia rates it: 4/5
I have to say, The Assistants surprised me. With a jacket flap/back cover description that describes the protagonist, Tina, as a six-year assistant who is “bored, broke, and just a bit over it all,” I was excited. Aren’t we all bored, broke, and just a bit over it all? I know I am. (Then again, my job title has “assistant” in it.) To me, this seemed like The Devil Wears Prada meets a heist movie, both of which are things I love, and it was all over my social media feeds, so I put it on hold at the library to give it a go.
After a technical error in the expenses department leads to Tina being reimbursed for an expense that had already been cancelled, she finds herself with a sizeable check that would, in one fell swoop, finally pay off her student loan debt. She never intends to deposit the check–she just wants to look at it for a while. But while it’s such a huge amount to her, it’s a miniscule amount to Robert, her boss, and Titan Corporation, the company he runs and for which Tina works. So, after three weeks of sitting on it, she deposits the check and pays off her student loans. Simple, right? Not quite. An assistant from the accounting department discovers what she’s done and blackmails Tina into faking expense reports to pay off her student loan debt. The two become involved in an embezzlement scheme the likes of which Tina never wanted part, but it is this scheme that leads to something that is, surprisingly, not only legitimate but the sort of fulfillment for which Tina’s been searching.
I’m unwilling to give spoilers, because that’s rude. (There is a circle of hell for people who purposely spoil things for other people.) But I can say that this book took more than a few turns that I didn’t expect. As a reader, a writer, and an editor, I like to figure out where novels are going. Sometimes they surprise me, and sometimes they don’t–this doesn’t necessarily mean a novel is either good or bad; I’ve liked plenty a book where I could predict the ending. But it’s been quite a while since something surprised me in the way The Assistants did. Just when I thought I’d gotten something figured out, it flipped everything upside-down and I was back at square one. It made the book a wild ride–I was frequently texting Connor that yet another shoe had dropped. “This book is an octopus,” I said, with many exclamation points. “It’s dropped like five shoes already.”
While this book was an enjoyable read, it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever read. There seemed to be a dissonance between the prologue and the novel. It read as if it were an article written by a different individual, summing up poorly the events that follow and also inventing a few things here and there for added spice. It’s not unusual for a prologue to deliberately mislead the reader, and it’s a narrative tactic that I’ve seen before, but here it didn’t feel deliberate; it felt as if they had been written widely apart from one another, and somewhere in that time the connection between them had been lost. I also genuinely had trouble liking the love interest, even though I can tell he’s supposed to be likeable. There’s something about using the phrase, “You’re not like other girls” (repeatedly, if with variation) that sends up a red flag that won’t quite go away.
I definitely look forward to seeing what Perri has to offer in the future. The Assistants is poignant and hilarious, and while it may sometimes hit a bit too close to home for a recent college graduate like myself, that’s what makes it, ultimately, so relatable.