A woman who lost her temper on a plane recently ended up losing her job when a fellow passenger posted a video of the incident online, where it went viral.
Casey Pendergast could relate. She is a modern-day Emma in Sally Franson’s first novel, “A Ladies’ Guide to Selling Out,” a timely but uneven comedy of manners set at the crossroads of art, pop culture and corporate interests. Like Jane Austen’s heroine, Casey can be both amusing and annoying, self-involved yet well-meaning. A former English lit major who is now a rising star at a boutique Minneapolis ad agency, she’s a slave to social media, a material girl with the clothes, the car and the condo, unlike her best friend Susan, an aspiring writer.
Casey does admit to the occasional doubt since turning 28 — “a funny little tremor in my brain … a shimmering feeling of existing in two places at once, the life I’d imagined for myself, and the life I was currently living.”
Then she lands a plum assignment at work, matching businesses that want to brand their products with writers who can endorse said products on their social media platforms. A novelist, for example, could tout fountain pens on Instagram, or a nature writer could tweet about the benefits of granola bars. Armed with a corporate credit card, Casey travels around the country and is somewhat surprised how many authors sign on.
Still, she reassures herself that they’re not really selling out: one prizewinning author needs a retirement account, another wants to open an animal rescue center. The cute writer with whom she has fallen in love has to support his ill mother. What could possibly go wrong? A lot, as it turns out, almost all of it Casey’s fault as she misreads people and situations.
Franson, on the other hand, is a witty observer of the literary world and recognizes its poseurs, backstabbers, plagiarists and predators. All play a part in Casey’s cringe-worthy downfall, which happens at a Las Vegas book convention. “A former poet laureate lurked blackly in one corner of the hall like the Phantom of the Opera; a National Book Award finalist desperately drank cola after diet cola while three old women buzzed around him like gingham flies.”
As unlikable as Casey can be, she doesn’t deserve her internet shaming and she eventually does learn from her mistakes and misadventures. With the help of a reality TV star and some difficult soul-searching, she begins the climb back, becoming more sympathetic in the process. Her coming-of-age is late, but, hey, I think she’s going to make it after all.
Nancy Pate is a writer and reviewer in Orlando, Fla., who has attended many book conventions.
A Lady's Guide to Selling Out
By: Sally Franson.
Publisher: Dial Press, 276 pages, $27.
Events: In conversation with Joanna Demkiewicz, 6 p.m. April 10, Milkweed Books, 1011 Washington Av. S., Mpls.; in conversation with Ben Purkert, 7 p.m. April 23, Magers & Quinn, 3038 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.