Published by Dial Press
Publication date: April 10, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Debut, Fiction, Humor, New Adult
Let’s not beat around the bush: I’m a sucker for a clever book cover and when I saw A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out I knew I wanted to read the book, even if the title didn’t wow me. I mean, please…her skirt is a book! I want it. Add to that this is a novel about a young woman who got an English degree because she loved books and reading so much, only to discover that career options in the field (because what is the field?) are limited. Fortunately, unlike the rest of introverted book-loving, English majors, Casey is not the shy type. Without any experience she talks her way into a job at a small boutique ad agency in Minneapolis. People’s Republic Advertising is run by Celeste Winter, a woman who sees Casey as her protégé. And, just like that, I’m back with another novel about women mentoring in the workplace, ala The Female Persuasion, which I reviewed last week.
The new adult, women-in-power plot point aside, the two novels are somewhat different. The Lady’s Guide to Selling Out begins with a chick-lit feel to it—a group of young, bright, fashionable, working women, with an emphasis on what they’re wearing and how everyone looks. This is not character-driven, literary fiction. But, as the story progresses, Casey is pushed into a new initiative by Celeste. It’s couched as helping respected, non-commercial writers get the money they need to write fulltime so they don’t have to waste their talent working traditional jobs to pay the bills. So, maybe a Pulitzer Prize winning poet who writes about nature agrees to be part of an ad campaign for a frozen food company introducing an organic line of frozen dinners. Win-win, yes? From the beginning author Sally Franson does a marvelous job framing this idea—it’s not bad, but it doesn’t feel quite right, either. Except Celeste is trying to expand the company and this feels like a winning idea, especially with the high-energy, highly persuasive, Casey selling it.
This ‘values versus ambition’ motif is just one aspect of The Lady’s Guide to Selling Out that shoves it squarely out of chick-lit and into the brain candy genre (where superficial meets nuance). Much like The Female Persuasion there are no men of note in the novel, which is one of the biggest hallmarks of chick-lit to me—the need or desire for a man. Casey’s focus is her career and her only desire is to pull her friends along with her—even when they don’t want anything to do with her hyper-capitalistic world. Susan is her best friend and a real writer, something Casey once hoped to be. And while they’re polar opposites in their sense of self
Susan didn’t get it. She assumed that, like her, people walked around with a clear sense of who they were. But some of us girls dutifully waited to be told.
they are the kind of best friends we all hope for. Susan is the thinker, so Casey acts for her, which ends up going very wrong. Still, this is the heart of the novel and Franson writes it so well that it hits home for any woman who still has friends from years (or even decades) ago.
Don’t get me wrong, A Lady’s Guide to Selling Out isn’t a cozy, wind-beneath-my-wings piece of fiction. It’s a modern, snarky, sharp look at one young woman who’s going all in on what she thinks her life should be. Casey’s trajectory is relatable, but there is a point where the drama explodes. It feels like too much, except that in these days of social media and #MeToo, the curtain has been ripped back from a lot of drama that’s been going on unseen for decades, so maybe this is realistic. Either way, Casey is the perfect imperfect character, a young woman charging into life because motion equals achievement. It isn’t until all that emotion erupts into chaos and she is ground to a halt that she begins to find what she truly wants. And for every woman who has reached that goal or is still wandering it makes for satisfying, rewarding, and fun reading.
Because books, the good ones, the ones you hold on to and come back to, they never disappoint. They’re the best kind of escape because, instead of leading you away from yourself, they end up circling you back to yourself, nice and easy, helping you see things not just as they are, but as you are too.