We all know the Divas of the Workplace — they’re usually easy to spot. Whether you work in a chain store, a restaurant or an office, Power Women permeate every cell of the place. Jen Lancaster was one of these ladies — intense and hard-working but also intensely spoiled. Not very many years out of college, she’d already landed a six-figure job as an associate vice president at an investment research firm in Chicago, where she lived with her long-time boyfriend Fletch.
Jen is a self-proclaimed narcissist, so we can’t hold any of her hubris against her — or so we’re told. She’s beautiful, rich and important, a lethal combination for any numbskulls who make the mistake of crossing her . . . or just crossing in her path. Life carries along just fine for Ms. Lancaster — filled to the brim with expensive shoes, clothing and an enviable lifestyle — until the economy begins to tank around 2001. Now I’m not all about the corporate lingo, but anyone could see terms like “merger” and “lay-offs” were going to spell disaster for our heroine. When she finds the ax has come down, she’s been efficiently chopped out of her comfortable life, possibly forever.
Bitter Is The New Black: Confessions Of A Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry A Prada Bag To The Unemployment Office, aside from bearing one of the longest subtitles I’ve ever seen, is a hilarious, often poignant look at Jen’s fall from grace — and her eventual reckoning with who she once was in order to change.
Of course the book opens with a seriously scary Jen drinking, shouting at waitresses and generally intimidating everyone around her — save a few lackeys at her workplace. As I can be a bit demanding and egomaniacal myself, I was a little worried I was going to be reading a book about myself — save all the shouting, because I’m way too polite for that. And, you know, the money . . . because I’m just an editor. And the shoes — not really my thing. Purses, though? Yes, please. And —
Whoa, I digress!
No, this book is all about Jen — and I wouldn’t want it any other way! She’s larger than life, a bit crass but always truthful, and I absolutely loved the fact that she was honest with herself and about herself. Bitter Is The New Black is really her journey out of corporate life and into a whole new life — one as a writer. But way beyond that, it’s about a serious paradigm shift — yes, I just used the work paradigm, who’s pretentious now? — that forces her to reclassify everything in her life that’s important. Suddenly the purchase of a $6,500 couch that once seemed life or death for Jen is seen as a terrible, terrible misuse of funds (thank goodness they didn’t really buy it). When unemployment checks begin to run out for both she and Fletch, all the dollars dropped on those Kate Spade bags and designer clothes? A waste. When you can’t pay your electricity and face constant harrassment from your landlord about getting behind on rent, living hand-to-mouth, nothing in your life can be the same.
Because things get bad for Jen and Fletch. Scary bad. Knot-in-my-stomach bad. They were never in danger of losing a roof over their head — they always had Jen’s parents in Indiana to fall back on — but they were definitely in some hot water. And it was only through their perserverance and ability to stick together that brought them through that.
Oh, and because Jen is one wickedly hilarious writer.
Bloggers in particular will appreciate Jen’s riches-to-rags-to-riches story, mostly because everything turned around after her blog Jennsylvania began to take off. Much like Julie Powell of Julie & Julia fame, we see the power of the Internet — and the written word — in action.
If you’re looking for a funny read with a very healthy dash of comeuppances mixed into articulate but chatty prose, Jen Lancaster is your best bet. Laurie Notaro is still my reigning Queen of the Hilarious Memoir, but I’m totally willing to invite Lancaster to court.
4.5 out of 5!