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Secretarial Wars

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Success Stories

by Linda Gould


ISBN: 0 595 27592 3
iUniverse, 2003
288pp, paperback
Retail price $17.95

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If quality of writing were the only criterion of literary success, Linda Gould’s new book, Secretarial Wars, could be a best-seller. Unfortunately, there are other aspects to the art of the novel, not the least of which is plot.

Secretarial Wars does not lack plot, but it lacks dynamism. Forty pages in, I was still waiting for something significant to happen. There had been events, certainly. Three work colleagues go to an American football match, where they start a fight with other members of the crowd, then follow one of the players to his car, where a further incident ensues. Besides this, they spend an awful lot of time talking about the technical detail of the game, most of which was lost on me. Perhaps this would have been acceptable if the novel was about American football, but it isn’t; it’s about three secretaries, their career aspirations and the vicissitudes of their lives.

In much the same way, it’s not wrong for Miriam, the central character, to spend time musing on how her life has failed to proceed as planned, but it seems odd that someone so ambitious and, apparently, intelligent should take so long to notice the evidence of corruption at large in her workplace. Could this be because she has spent her lunch hours hiking along Pennsylvania Avenue, brooding on her inability to find a niche as a political journalist? It could be, but, if I met her in real life and she behaved as she does in the novel, I would be forced to conclude that she just doesn’t have the gumption. The other characters are equally puzzling. If Cass is so besotted with the Redskins’ long-standing quarterback, Larry Longford, how come she has never actually been to a game before? Jocelyn, or Jo, is quite a different matter. As a character, quirky as she may be, she is at least memorable. They are an odd threesome, and one wonders how they ever came to be so close in the first place, but this is not explained in the narrative.

Stranger things have happened. I found, as I went on, that I was enjoying the banter between the three friends and wanting to know what would happen to them. The story is not predictable. Miriam sets her cap at Calvin Martinez and we are tempted to expect a romance to follow from the professional relationship she at first intends, but we are never sure how it will develop until the last chapter. The same is true of her other activities, particularly her (rather feeble) attempts to expose the wholesale bribery taking place within the charitable organisation for which she works.

The novel has two major flaws: lack of pace and over-complexity of plot. There are far too many characters for a story that is neither a saga nor a blockbuster, what with various members of the office staff, football players, academics and journalists. Miriam’s ex-husband, whom one might expect to have a major role in her emotional development, remains a shadowy figure, existing merely to bring about a course of events that adds confusion, but not credibility, to the already farcical climax. In some ways, the squib-like epilogue is the best thing about the book, because it is more believable than anything that precedes it: as so often in real life, the fireworks simply fizzle out.

I spent a long time reading this book, and in the end I didn’t feel, as I sometimes do with review copies, that it was time wasted. There is real writing ability here. Unfortunately, the subject matter and structure do not show it off to best effect. Maybe next time.


Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher