Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It'll make you LOL: a blogger makes it big

A few days ago, I alluded to a faboo book that I couldn't stop reading, even after I'd read it. That book? Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster.

Jen's tale is, as she describes it in the author's note, "a modern Greek tragedy, as defined by Roger Dunkle in The Classical Origins of Western Culture:...in which 'the central character...suffers some serious misfortune which is not accidental and therefore meaningless, but is significant in that the misfortune is logically connected.' In other words? The bitch had it coming." Jen is high on life and success as the book opens: she just won a corporate award for her sales presentation, and plans to spend the large cash prize on more designer everything. She's living the sweet life, in a sweet pad, with her similarly successful live-in boyfriend.

Then, the unthinkable happens. Two weeks after September 11th, she's laid off. Her job hunt starts out confident, then grows increasingly desperate as her unemployment runs out and her boyfriend (husband by then) gets laid off too. Many people who've hunted for jobs recently will recognize her misadventures: there's the startup that asks her to prepare a business plan to help them make their decision, takes notes a little too ardently when she presents it, then never contacts her again. There are the offers taht mysteriously and inexplicably vanish like fireworks. There are the mind-dulling temp jobs, the Nordstrom managers who won't hire you because you don't have enough experience. For some reason I've never understood, tales of the working world interest me a great deal, so I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book.

The best part about it, though, was Jen herself. Judging from the description on the back, I'd expected to hate her and cheer when she failed, but I didn't. She has such a forceful, charismatic personality that it reaches right through the page at you. Her intimate tone (which I suspect may come partly from all the blogging) makes you root for her. Even when she's at her most shallow and materialistic, you know that she's also a human with feelings and admirable characteristics too. She's able to laugh at herself throughout the book, which (like I said in the title) will also make you LOL at some of the stuff she does (I loved the drunken Big Lebowski story). At the same time, however, she's clearly an intelligent woman who deserved her past success, which made me respect her.

Another great thing about this book is that she learns something. One thing that made the horrid Citizen Girl and the Plum Sykes books so annoying, is that the protagonists (and I use that word loosely) fail to learn anything. This despite the fact that blindingly obvious lessons are repeatedly shoved in their faces throughout the tale (The kind most of us learn in junior high, too: Don't Date Men Only Because They're Rich or Good-Looking, It's Not All About You, Success Doesn't Happen Instantly, etc.). Jen changes a lot throughout her journey. As she admits, she was defined by her job and her possessions. When she was stripped of both, she had to find new things to define her. And yes, I know that this is a true story, whereas Citizen Girl and the Plum Sykes books are more fanciful than your average JRR Tolkien tale. But the point is that a reader can get something out of Bitter is the New Black. The ending is much more satisfying than CG's continued martyrdom, or seeing a Plum Sykes protagonist rewarded for behaving like a stupid bitch. It gives you hope for people.

As a big animal person, I'd also like to mention an aspect of the story that I loved: Jen's work with rescue dogs. Desperate for a way to occupy her days, she volunteers at an animal rescue. She starts out terrified of the pit bulls, and only stays after the volunteer coordinator challenges her committment. But she grows to love it, and states flat-out that all the crap in the media about vicious pit bulls is that, exactly: crap. She even takes in two dogs from the shelter. I hope that the pit bull advocacy people have taken note of this. With these dogs being overrepresented in shelters and vilified in the media, they need all the good publicity they can get. Her chapters on Maisy and Loki may have just saved a life or two.

A final note: if all of this intrigues you and you want to test her out, she also maintains a blog. She too is doing NaBloPoMo (that's where I heard about it, actually). If you like, you can visit her at www.jennsylvania.com. The URL is also on my sidebar. I recommend it, she's a good writer, and probably a fun person too!

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