Vermont author Amy Klinger’s debut novel takes us back to the office environment of the 1990s
If you’re looking for a witty, sardonic, thought-provoking novel that takes you back to a simpler time – which, of course, wasn’t simple at all – a work of fiction by Amy Klinger might just be the book for you. .
It’s a novel that will feel a lot like the real thing for anyone who ever worked hard in an office environment in the 1990s and the 21st century until recent events when the coronavirus unleashed a sea of change in the place. where people work and how they approach the world of work. In light of recent events is the debut novel by Richmond author Amy Klinger.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Klinger about the book. Their conversation below has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Mitch Wertlieb: I’ve always had a thing for anti-heroes in books and movies. That is, the flawed characters that you can tell are really good people. They are simply trying to navigate their way through a complex world with as little friction and conflict as possible. And the protagonist of this book, Audrey Romer, really ticks all of those boxes. Where does Audrey work? How would you describe his general work philosophy in the 1990s?
Amy Klinger: She works for a publishing company — a textbook publishing company. And she’s squarely in middle management, sort of straddling the worlds between the administrative side and senior management. And she finds herself in a place where the work is not particularly inspiring. It’s hard for him to imagine climbing the corporate ladder for a variety of reasons. And yet, she still maintains connections in both places.
She also has a partner in crime in her friend Pooter. He’s a confidant on some level, but also someone who kind of shares his cynical outlook. And it looks like you could’ve taken an easier route, maybe, giving Audrey a leaf that’s really different from her, like a real type-A go-getter, but instead Pooter looks a lot like her in his disdain for the office culture, the people who work there.
Why did you want to have this type of dynamic relationship to anchor this book?
I think work environments are really fascinating places for me, because it’s a bunch of random people who have been thrown around with various personalities, and it’s an unnatural environment. I think when you’re in that environment, you often find your loved ones, who are the ones you can lean on to get through the day, to find the moments of humor and inside jokes.
And she and Pooter really work that way. I think a lot of people used to call her “She’s my work wife”, “She’s my work wife”. And that dynamic, really, feels very real to me. Almost in every environment there are people you really feel connected to – they become your family during the day when you’re there for eight hours or more. It’s comforting to know you have a pal there, and Pooter really works that way for her.
The main cause of conflict for Audrey in this novel is that she has an affair with a co-worker, her boss, who actually runs her department. He is married to this elegant upper class woman, named Patricia. And there’s this tense scene where Audrey sees Patricia in a supermarket and sort of follows her around like a detective, you know, she’s unable to look away. And later, she’s in bed with Dan, he’s Patricia’s husband and her boss, and Audrey has this incredible moment of revelation. I wonder if you could read a bit of that moment when Audrey realizes something that really strikes her.
“It took some mental digging to figure out why. And then, as if I had picked up a wedged rock and found something writhing and frantically trying to escape the light of day, I realized that something was harassing me, not just then, but for the past few weeks since I followed Patricia to the grocery store. I had been baited and traded. I was not the mistress. I was on the couch and l friend who reads a book; the kitchen, the dining room, the grocery store. Patricia, who has toured the world and landed in town to attend gallery openings and celebrity fundraisers to have a urgent, enthusiastic, ‘I miss you so much’ sex with Dan message. Patricia was the mistress.
I mean, this moment falls like an anvil on Audrey, and she realizes it on her own. I wonder how you approached how to make her a strong woman in this environment where she could so easily be shy and a bit shy.
She really worked for me as someone who was constantly in the middle, that middle frame, she has her feet in both worlds, and she’s not in a mature relationship.
But I didn’t want her to come across as weak. I think she has a very clear understanding of who she is, but she’s not very ambitious. She feels like she’s in a comfortable place and maybe she’s afraid to step out of her comfort zone, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have strong feelings and thoughts about who she is and where she is. She has clear eyes with me.
Yeah, he’s a real thinking person, if you will. She’s such a likeable character, despite some of the tough choices she’s made that obviously make her life harder.
One of the strengths of this novel, I think, is your ability to write in a very fluid and soaring style. I mean, there’s so much forward momentum in this book that it floats the reader like an undercurrent. But of course, writing it was not easy. I mean, that’s the secret to good writing, you make it easy. Your webpage has a blog post about creating this book, it took a while.
What was the biggest challenge for you to write this book, and above all, to stick to it?
I think for a long time I didn’t really have an endgame. I worked on it, in some ways, like someone would work on an old car in the garage, just, you know, a bit of a hobbyist and not really sure if it would ever come out on the road and into the world. I really grew to love these characters, and it was almost like hanging out with friends while I was writing it. And so I didn’t feel a real sense of urgency.
It took me 10 years to write this book which really shouldn’t have taken 10 years, but I was fitting it in between working full time and raising my daughter. And it just became something in the background until there was a tipping point where I felt like enough people cared about it. And it became a story in its own right. I decided to start making the rounds with agents, I spent a year doing it and received very polite and encouraging rejections, but they were always rejections.
In the midst of the pandemic, I decided this was a book that felt like it was adding some levity to the world. And I really decided at that point that I wanted to work hard to get it out. And so I decided, I thought, well, I’m just going to send it and I’m going to share it with my friends and family. And if other people come across it, so much the better. And then I got an email newsletter that I subscribed to that talked about some publishers that were accepting manuscripts from people who didn’t have agents and I thought, well, damn it, and I picked one that suited me and sent it in, and the very next day I received a request for the full manuscript.
Once I was done looking for an agent it went really well, and The Story Plant was great to work with, they were really encouraging, and their goal is to introduce new writers to the world, so it was a very good fit.
Do you have questions, comments or advice? Send us a message or tweet morning edition host Mitch Wertlieb @mwertlieb.