Whisper Network by Chandler Baker
Published by Flatiron Books
Publication date: July 2, 2019
Genres: Book Clubs, Contemporary, Fiction, Social Issues
Sloane, Ardie, and Grace are all well-paid, director level lawyers at an athletic apparel company in Dallas. Their boss, Ames, is a high-powered executive about to be promoted to CEO. Each of them has been subjected to inappropriate behavior on his part so when they learn about an anonymous spreadsheet with the actions and names of men who’ve behaved badly at other Dallas companies they decide to add his name. It’s the first domino in Whisper Network and it’s not the only thing that falls in this trenchant novel that dovetails neatly into the times we live in.
There is so much fodder in Whisper Network that it’s like a super sale at your favorite store—you don’t know where to look, you grab everything, and before you know it you’re too overwhelmed to make good choices. Initially, Baker’s decision to have a Greek chorus of women who verbalize what we’ve all been thinking since we put on our first pair of work pumps, is a wise one. They intone the instincts we’ve had to stifle
So when we said that we would prefer not to have to asked to smile on top of working, we meant that: we would like to do our jobs, please. When we said that we would like not to hear a comment about the length of our skirt, we meant that: we would like to do our jobs, please. When we said that we would like not to have someone try to touch us in our office, we meant that: we would like to do our jobs. Please.
But later, they’re weighing in enough that they feel heavy handed. The same can be said of the women outside the office. Context is critical, but Sloane, Grace, and Ardie’s lives and interpersonal dynamics are so laden with drama and subtext it detracts from the main plot.
What is appreciated, is the fourth woman impacted by Ames’s behavior. Rosalita is one of the cleaning staff at the company and through her Baker illustrates how inconceivably difficult it is for uneducated, hourly workers to ever raise their voices against the men who take advantage of their position. Her story is a welcome counterpoint to the women who have choices. They may be unwelcome, but they have choices.
Whisper Network is one of the summer reading picks I made on the podcast Sarah’s Book Shelves Live. At the time, all I had to go on was the publisher’s synopsis of the book and so I said it sounded like revenge fiction. Having read the book, I need to retract that label. It’s too glib. This is not light, one-note reading ala the movie 9 to 5, where women band together to easily and gleefully smash the patriarchy. Instead, it is complicated and uncomfortable because it doesn’t take place in the easy land of black and white. Baker doesn’t shy away from unlikable characters, dubious motives, and compromising situations with her women. By keeping them flawed, she slices deep into an endemic issue that should not exist in America, but does. Whisper Network is challenging, explosive fiction that’s going to feel real to many of the women who read it.
We pretended that all of this was a myth. That we had neither fallopian tubes, nor menstrual cycles, nor breasts, nor moods, nor children. And then we took it as a compliment when one of the men in the office told us we had balls. So, tell us again how this wasn’t a man’s world.