By Jean Marie Brown
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Jessica Winter’s debut novel, “Break in Case of Emergency,” is built around the main character of “Jen”, who is laid off early in the book. In addition to looking for a job, she struggles with her college friendships, her work relationships and, to some extent, her husband, Jim.
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Jessica Winter’s debut novel, “Break in Case of Emergency,” is an interesting study of the 1 percent and those striving to join their ranks.
A senior features editor at Slate and former culture editor at Time, Winter shines a harsh light on the world of beautiful people and the people who want to be a part of that world.
She’s well-acquainted with her subject matter as she populates her book with a double dose of beautiful yet vapid people.
She captures that superficial quest for fame through a celebrity philanthropist and the sycophants who surround her.
Winter divides the story into three parts.
The first part is so tedious and rambling it’s hard to get in sync with the storyline until part two. It’s worth noting that once the narrative picks up in part two, the story becomes engaging.
The conflict is built around Jen, who is laid off early in the book. In addition to looking for a job, she struggles with her college friendships, her work relationships and, to some extent, her husband, Jim.
Jim and Jen are a wanna-be couple, who live in a New York neighborhood that’s still a few years, decades?, from gentrification. There’s nothing homey about their apartment or the area surrounding it.
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They could afford smaller and better, but this is a rung on the ladder they must climb if they’re even to get within reach of the rarefied world occupied by Jen’s friend, Meg, and her husband (both of whom have substantial trust funds).
In addition to the uneven start, there are a couple of instances in the book where Winter doesn’t follow through with the storyline. There’s one vicious fight between Jim and Jen that goes unresolved. The conflict between them was vivid and real, but rather than explore the things that were said, the plot just moves past it.
Jen’s relationship with her parents also seems superficial to the point of being unnecessary. Jen’s interactions with her family through phone calls and flashbacks never seem to move the plot along or add depth to the storyline.
Winter’s narrative is as much about the shallowness of the society that Jen views like a child with her nose pressed to the glass of a candy or toy store, as it is about infertility and Jen’s struggle to conceive.
Jen is a passive participant in life. She avoids confrontation with nearly everyone and is constantly seeking to please.
From the nervous laugh that punctuates awkward situations to the unnecessary apologies, Winter does a great job at capturing the spirit of a young woman desperate to find her place in the world without ever setting a foot wrong.
Jen is an artist who fails to recognize the talent that everyone else sees. She works in communications, but it’s hard to call this her day job, because she isn’t actively pursuing her art.
Desperately searching for a job after being laid off, she grasps the first offer she receives and thrusts herself into Leora Infinitas’ orbit.
Infinitas is a composite of the all-too-familiar celebrity humanitarian, who spouts hollow platitudes. Infinitas’ LIFt is the first to make an offer and Jen snatches it up.
LIFt’s mission is to empower women. In reality, it is little more than a platform for Infinitas’ ego. Winter captures the absurdity of so-called humanitarian efforts that focus more on the largesse of the celebrity of the moment than the people being helped.
“Break in Case of Emergency” is a strong first effort. The characters and story are fresh, despite the minor miscues.