Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger

*** I think we’ve all seen and/or read The Devil Wears Prada at this point, so spoiler alerts really shouldn’t be necessary.  But just in case, consider yourselves warned.***

My first professional job turned out to be a nightmare.  I was in my early 20s, I was fresh out of University, and I was so excited to have found employment (which is hard for a historian with a BA) that was in my field (which is almost unheard of for a historian with a BA).  It quickly became a nightmare experience; I went from being a confident, excited, and happy person to someone who had to force herself out of bed each day, who dreaded going to the office, and who need to rely on anti-depressants to get both of those tasks done.  I wanted so badly to please my bosses that I started work at 6:30, took on as much responsibility as I could, and stayed later than I should have almost every day.  In that time, management was un-pleaseable; simply put, they played favorites, and because they valued personality over skills (and I never rubbed on well with the head-haunch-o), I never fell into that category.  In the end, the only skill that management had (which, turned out to be turning people off) led to the implosion of the company.  I got laid off, and I was miserable.  I cried, I felt betrayed, and I resented all the long hours that I gave to them that turned out to be useless – I was the first one they laid off (literally, the first one), and I hadn’t been expecting it (since during the preceding two works I was working 16 hour days to meet a deadline that was unmeet-able, but that my manager promised to a client), so I was caught out in the cold.  It wasn’t until I started at the job I currently have that I realized what I had allowed to happen: I had been in an abusive relationship.  The company had convinced me I was less than my worth, left me crippled with self-doubt, and made me question what I could have done better to have stayed.  

All of this is to tell you about my personal reaction to the book The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger.  I first read it a couple of years before I started at the job described above, and I remember having the impression that it was hilarious, and complete unreasonable to believe that someone would subject themselves to the kind of work environment the main character, Andy Sachs, did.  Last week, I was craving some literary ‘junk-food’ and decided to re-read The Devil Wears Prada for the heck of it, without even think about what six years (and one failed career) might lend to the experience.

Re-reading The Devil Wears Prada quickly became an uncomfortable experience for me.  I recognized myself in the young woman who, despite being loaded beyond reason with crap from her boss, keeps going into the office; keeps trying to please; keeps trying to rationalize the soul-crushing effect of it all away.  It wasn’t the light literary romp I remembered – it was more like re-experiencing my own personal Vietnam.  Clearly, Weisberger was writing from experience – there is no way she isn’t a survivor of a workplace like the one described at Runway Magazine (in fact, the rumor is that it’s a fictionalized auto-biography of her year with Anna Wintour of Vogue).

Those who read this book without a similar experience in their personal history might not find it believable, or give Weisberger the props she deserves.  This book, while being literary ‘junk-food’ is on point.  Weisberger deserves credit if for no other reason that her ability to connect so personally with one of her readers.  

This wouldn’t be much of a book review if I didn’t speak a little bit about the book, specifically.  The characters are well written and likable (though, in their own unique ways); the plot is a little shaky here and there (but the tone behind it is spot-on); but the writing style becomes predictable (with flashes back to explain the present, and the present become a touch repetitive in terms of plot advancement).  All in all, a good read, and something wholly different from the flick; I can’t say which is better though, because they are so fundamentally different.  Finally verdict?  I’d recommend this one as a beach-read; good, but it doesn’t require a lot of dedication to keep up with.  

So, I guess this review was less about the book, and more about the exit interview that my old employer never gave me the courtesy of having.  I’m sure they have a completely different perspective of how things went down (after all, they were masters of not accepting responsibility for anything), but I’m the one with the blog, and with the kick-ass job that I got without any references from them.  I’m slowing coming out of the shell-shock of the abusive relationship I was in for almost four years, but it’s proving difficult (but the situation is helped by co-workers who recognize my abilities and respect me for them).  The Devil Wears Prada was an unexpected reminder this week of what my life was, and how much better off I am now.  

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