Equivalency can be the tipoff to inequality. It might seem counterintuitive, but when you experience this, it happens in a heartbeat. In Camille Perri’s The Assistants, equivalency confirms inequality and sets the plot in motion. Tina Fontana is the assistant to the billionaire-ish head of a media empire. When his whim-of-the moment travel plans prove to be equal in cost to Tina’s terrifying student debt, she finds herself at a moral turning point. Once she crosses the line, her perceptions of the world around her – and herself – are slowly but irrevocably altered. “Laughing all the way to the bank” gets a 21st century luxury gap update.
Tina’s voice is the driving force of The Assistants, which combines a soupcon of crime novel with a delightful dose of office farce. Once she sets herself in motion, Tina learns that isolation is impossible in the modern workplace. She’s looped in with Emily, who at first glance is Tina’s polar opposite. Tina is short, low-key and on the demure side. Emily is a tall, hot blonde associated with Harvard. Not a force to be denied, she moves in on Tina’s plans and into her tiny, tiny apartment. And while the apartment has room for no more, Tina’s office plans prove to be very accommodating to her female co-worker, all saddled with debt, generally from school.
The Assistants reads like lightning, but has pretty hard core of driving ideas. It doesn’t wear its smarts on its sleeve. Instead, Perri shows us and doesn’t tell us just how crafty she (the author) and Tina and her posse (the characters) are. There’s not a wasted word or a single scene that doesn’t race by like a New York cab on a rainy night. Generally through a puddle. She hits the truth-turns-to-fiction button at all the right moments, and genuinely likes all her characters. The billionaires are not, likeable, per se, but they are by no means villains. They’re more like clueless blue bloods, trans-Atlantic, time-shifted transplanted aristocrats from a clash-of-classes era.
The Assistants has enough crime to satisfy readers of the mystery/crime fiction genre, but is light on punishment, and utterly without violence (not even emotional), so as to be easily embraced by a very wide audience. The humor never gets into cartoon territory, and the book gets a R rating by virtue of a nice sprinkling of language that you still cannot use on TV. Simply put, this is a great way to make the world go away, funny and fast-paced, even as it is underpinned by matters that deserve serious consideration. That might happen after you finish hearing Tina’s story. Open up The Assistants and listen as Tina Fontana tells you her story, as she closes the luxury gap with a guilt-driven confidence that for readers, is the equivalent of one hell of a good time.
Not surprisingly, Camille Perri manages to display a similar level of confidence when we sat down to speak about her novel. You can hear the lightning round version of that interview by downloading the file at this link. Or you can don your office headset, pretend to be transcribing dictation and listen right here.
To close the luxury gap, settle in as you commute for the director’ cut, by downloading the file here. Or, get back to that document transcription because it’s a 50-minute interview work speech right here: