Austin author's 'Whisper Network' is a campy, feminist revenge fantasy
Viciously funny and compulsively readable, Chandler Baker’s first adult novel, "Whisper Network," is a feminist thriller for the #MeToo era.
In their years working in-house at Dallas sportswear company Truviv, Sloane, Grace and Ardie, all three high-powered lawyers, have become not only friends, but a de facto support group, because they are, by their gender, perennial outsiders. Not that anyone would say as much, not explicitly. They are not oppressed; they are achieving. They have good degrees. Their husbands, if they have them, are nice and supportive. They blow-dry their hair. And yet theirs is an uphill battle, because they are perennial outsiders in a corporate culture built for men. They aren’t all bad men. “But even the good ones — especially the good ones? — pretended not to notice the lines: how much more deference they earned on the phone for having a male voice,” explains Baker’s Greek workplace chorus. “Or how their height and stature and morning stubble gave an authoritative weight to their ideas that ours never had.” The bad ones — the ones who cross lines — are discussed only in whispers; the stakes are too high to do anything else. Until the women catch wind of a spreadsheet that’s circulating: The BAD Men List, shorthand for “Beware of Asshole Dallas Men,” an anonymous document with male names and misdeeds, ranging from the uncomfortable to the predatory. When Truviv’s CEO dies and their immediate good ol’ boy boss, Ames Garrett, is put up for the job, Sloane can’t sit by and do nothing, watching him do to other, younger associates what he once did to her. But when she adds his name to the list, she can't possibly anticipate what will come next. Deliciously campy, the novel is part whodunit and part revenge fantasy, and Baker’s fondness for over-the-top foreshadowing only serves to enhance the delightfully ominous mood. It’s a breezy page-turner of a book, which is the brilliance of it: Under the froth is an unmistakable layer of justified rage.
It's over-the-top in all the right ways.
(Baker will speak and sign copies of her book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com.)
A hopeful look at an excruciating choice
A married couple must make an agonizing decision about their critically ill young son in Clare Mackintosh's "After the End."
Dylan Adams, an almost-3-year-old English boy, is in pediatric intensive care when we meet him, having endured several rounds of chemotherapy as well as surgery to remove a brain tumor. His devoted parents — Max, an American business analyst, and Pip, a British flight attendant (the family lives near Birmingham, England) — want nothing more than to bring their boy home. Eventually, though, Dylan’s doctor, Leila Khalili, presents them with an excruciating choice. Pip favors one option; Max, another. This is grim material, and in other hands, the story easily could have turned mawkish. But Mackintosh, a British author of mystery-thrillers, gets a lot of things right. She’s a natural writer, and her powers of observation are keen: “It takes practice, speaking to a sedated child,” she writes, then goes on to explain why. Everything, at least in the first half of the novel, feels true. (In an afterword, the author reveals that she and her husband were once compelled to make a similar decision.) The book is also briskly plotted, an unlikely page-turner. The story is told in the alternating voices of Pip and Max; there’s also a third perspective — that of Leila, the sympathetic doctor, whose narrative provides some relief from the intensity of the other two accounts. The book falters in the overlong second half. The author imagines dual outcomes to her story, which seems gimmicky — things get complicated (and sometimes confusing) as well as repetitive. Plus, Max’s downward trajectory doesn’t seem entirely credible; neither do some of his personal choices. But the ending, if not exactly happy, is authentically hopeful.
While occasionally overwrought, this is a perceptive, skillfully told story about a profoundly painful subject.
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