A wry and deeply moving comedy set in New York about friendship, fertility, and fighting for one’s sanity in a toxic workplace. This sharply astute novel may just have you nodding your head in recognition of some of the issues the heroine faces.
Jen has reached her early thirties and has all but abandoned a once-promising painting career when, spurred by the economic crisis, she takes a poorly defined job at a feminist nonprofit. The foundation’s ostensible aim is to empower women, but staffers spend all their time devising acronyms for imaginary programs, ruthlessly undermining one another, and stroking the ego of their boss, the larger-than-life celebrity philanthropist Leora Infinitas.
Jen’s complicity in this passive-aggressive hellscape only intensifies her feelings of inferiority compared to her two best friends – one a wealthy attorney with a picture-perfect family, the other a passionately committed artist – and so does Jen’s apparent inability to have a baby, a source of existential panic that begins to affect her marriage and her already precarious status at the office.
Ferociously intelligent, Break in Case of Emergency is an irreverently funny satire of celebrity do-goodism, as well as a heartfelt exploration of the difficulty of navigating female friendships as they shift to accommodate marriage and family, and the unspoken tensions that can erode even the strongest bonds.
This story is so full of topical observations on modern-day life, here are some questions to get your book group talking:
1. Jen has to invent a new codified language to discuss her fertility problems. How far do we have to go to get this issue out into the open for free discussion?
2. Break In Case of Emergency is chock-a-block full with bad office behaviour: layers of power play, mock-enthusiasm, mock-kindness - Winter invents a place where passive aggression reigns. But it’s so realistic. Winter is brutal in her appraisal of how we treat each other ‘in-house’. Do you have similar stories? How can we cope with it better and more than that, change this behaviour?
3. Jen feels chastened by how her friends are either creatively fulfilled, or flying high in corporate culture, and feels stuck in her job. Can you identify with her plight? Why is it so hard to not compare yourself to your friends?