In new #MeToo novel ‘Whisper Network,’ women rebel against a boss who’s a Bad Man
Set against a real-world backdrop, author Chandler Baker offers a spirited take on the rage that simmers below the surface for many women in the workplace.
Who created the “bad men” spreadsheet? How true are its allegations, and who needs to know? What would happen if you used it to anonymously tell the truth about your boss, who is most definitely a . . . Bad Man?
These questions, familiar from the news, shape the story in Chandler Baker’s contemporary adult novel debut ”Whisper Network” (Flatiron, $26.99), in which four women, fed up with their boss’ harassing behavior toward women, take action when he comes up for a big promotion. They start a “bad men” spreadsheet, and all of the long-hidden secrets start to be exposed in this #MeToo reckoning..
The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of four women who work at Truviv, a fictional Dallas “athleisure” sportswear company. Their takes are interspersed with court transcripts, everything taking place over a few months surrounding a shocking and potentially criminal act at the company’s headquarters.
Sloane, Grace, and Ardie hold professional roles in Truviv’s legal department; Rosalita is a cleaner who works nights in the office. All four have sacrificed family time and devoted strenuous effort to difficult jobs, and each has had run-ins with Ames Garrett, their overly confident and manipulative boss and CEO-to-be.
When Katherine, a young hire in legal, becomes close to Ames, each woman is forced to reckon with her past and decide how — and whether — to try to help keep Ames from taking advantage of their new colleague.
But Katherine might have her own agenda, one that doesn’t align with that of the longtime coworkers who all think she needs their help.
Baker, who works as a corporate lawyer in Austin, Texas, is also the author of five young adult novels, including the “High School Horror” series.
A strong feature of her debut effort at adult fiction is the unnamed narrator at the beginning of each chapter of ”Whisper Network,” who claims to be among the mass of women working at Truviv. Functioning as a kind of #MeToo-era Greek chorus, these sections are vivid and compelling, offering an insider’s perspective on the true cost of female ambition in the workplace.
“If time was currency, we were all going broke,” our unnamed narrator observes. “We were working with less time than the men in our office… Sixteen minutes to pick out an outfit. Forty-five minutes of cardio in the evening, followed by the occasional fifteen minutes of abdominal work. If you think we’re making this up, we suggest a quick search through the staff profile pictures to see what we mean.”
Interspersing this sidelong commentary with Sloan’s fight to keep Ames from taking agency away from her role, or Grace’s struggle to cope with postpartum depression while still holding down a top position, allows the novel to conjure its title — the way women share stories to gain power in a system that’s stacked against them.
”Whisper Network” succeeds as a fast-paced deep dive into gender politics and office culture, less so as a murder mystery whose final chapters veer into formulaic whodunit territory.
Far more interesting than the takedown of a caricatured bad boss is the way the women at Truviv use skills they’ve honed on the job to form alliances, create opportunities and protect each other, as well as the novel’s spirited take on the rage that simmers below the surface for many women in the workplace.