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LIFE AT A BIG BOX STORE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK

Adelle Waldman

4:30 p.m. Thursday, September 26, 2024

University at Albany
Multi-Purpose Room, Campus Center West
1400 Washington Avenue Albany NY 12222 -  See map.

Adelle Waldman’s much-anticipated new novel, Help Wanted (2024), explores the lives and economic hardships of retail workers at a big box store in Upstate New York.

 

Kirkus called it, “The workplace dramedy of the year.” A New York Times Editors’ Choice, it was noted as a major new book by Lit Hub, Vogue, Vulture, New York, and Elle. Waldman’s previous novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. (2013), was a national bestseller. Widely-hailed as a 21st century “comedy of manners,” the book told the tale of a successful and self-absorbed young writer, and his romantic conquests in New York City’s hip literary world. The Boston Globe said, “Adelle Waldman just may be this generation's Jane Austen.”

 

Cosponsored by the UAlbany English Department’s Creative Writing Program and Young Writers Project, and the Writing & Critical Inquiry Program (WCI).

Reviews

“I can’t think of a book more necessary. Adelle Waldman takes us into the universe of American labor with generosity and compassion. It has been a while since workers have been portrayed through the lens of a novelist with such insight and attention to the details of service industry life. Simply enthralling.”
― Gary Shteyngart, author of Our Country Friends

“How did the writer of a novel that precisely described the parties and bedrooms of literary Brooklyn transform into the writer of Help Wanted, a deeply political yet highly readable story about the lives of low-wage workers? The answer might be that the novels have more in common than is readily apparent, despite their very different settings; both of them capture a world and a moment in time in a way that’s become unstylish in recent literary history and has more in common with the works of George Eliot and Jane Austen than most novels published today.”
—Emily Gould, New York Magazine

“If you want to read a novel in this election year about everyday life for low-paid Americans, then Help Wanted should be at the top of your reading list… Its characters work unloading stock at Town Square, a fictional superstore in the equally fictional Potterstown, New York… but their experiences resonate beyond its garishly lit aisles and reveal much about what F Scott Fitzgerald called ‘the dark fields of the republic.’… It’s like the TV drama Succession except with more likeable characters and pay grades that are unimaginably different.”
—Max Liu, Financial Times

Adelle Waldman's Help Wanted
Adelle Waldman, credit Louis Rouse

Photo credit: Louis Rouse 

"Adelle Waldman Takes the Early Shift: 

Why an author best known for skewering Brooklyn literati wrote a novel about working at a big-box store."

Excerpt from The Cut

When Adelle Waldman’s daughter was 21 months old, Waldman would wake at 2:30 a.m. to nurse her, take a shower, then drive from her house in Rhinebeck to the big-box store across the Hudson, arriving early enough to stash her belongings in a locker and clock in before her shift from 4 to 8 a.m. (One time, she got a speeding ticket because she didn’t want to get written up for being late.)

 

She would then join her team in spending the next four hours unloading a truck full of boxes, then dispersing its contents throughout the store. There was one 15-minute break halfway through the shift, and some employees would smoke cigarettes to help them stay awake. As we share American Spirits on the smoke-break bench outside the store one afternoon in late January, Waldman tells me everything else about the six months she spent at this job, the seed of her new novel, Help Wanted.

A stint at a $12.25-an-hour part-time job upstate was a long way from the scene-y events that greeted the publication of Waldman’s first novel a decade ago. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. was praised almost universally by reviewers and included on nearly every notable- and best-books list. On then-ascendant Twitter and at media parties, it was, for a time, all anyone could talk about: “Does anyone know who its protagonist, Nate Piven, is based on?” Nate is a Brooklyn-based debut novelist who has total contempt for women yet perpetually attracts them, even though they should be too smart to fall for his bullshit.

 

It wasn’t any one guy, of course. It was all of those guys, and in the character of Nate Piven, Waldman captured them with laser-guided precision and just enough empathy to make readers care.

 

Help Wanted, by contrast, is much wider in scope and aim. Like The Office in its universal workplace humor and even more like Mike White’s Enlightened in its textured portrayal of how small humiliations and injustices at work inevitably boil over into righteous rage, Help Wanted feels at once familiar yet revelatory in its specificity. Set at Town Square, also known as “the store” — a fictional retailer in a fictional upstate town — the book begins by introducing us to the store’s Movement team, ten very different people united in their desperate need for regular schedules, more hours, and benefits, all of which are denied to them by store policies gleefully enforced by their comically terrible, stripy-highlighted, high-strung boss, Meredith.

 

When Meredith is up for a promotion, the team members’ initial impulse is to do everything they can to tank her chances, until one worker plants a revolutionary idea in their heads. What if, instead of being honest about Meredith’s incompetence, the team conspires to praise her to the skies? That way, she’d be out of their hair, managing the whole store, and potentially clear the way for a more humane supervisor — maybe even one of their own. The remaining questions, which play out over the bulk of 274 fast-paced pages, are about whether all the team members will get onboard with the conspiracy, whether it will work, and which team member (if any) will get their shot at what pathetically passes for the American Dream (being paid fairly to wake up in the middle of the night to supervise people tossing boxes off a truck).

Read more.

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