Man at Work
Man at Work is a pleasant, entertaining contemporary romance with a message about snobbery. A good message, but one written with a heavy hand that almost got in the way of the story.
Marcy Paglinowski is an up-and-coming young lawyer who has fought hard to get where she’s at. She grew up in terrible surroundings and her father was a bit of a deadbeat. She works at the prestigious Washington D.C. law firm, Downey Finley & Salem, and is currently handling a personal injury case. Downey Fin is suing Planners Building & Design, a construction company, asserting that safety standards on the job site were blatantly ignored to the detriment of Marcy’s client. Marcy begins to track down evidence to nail Planners and impress her boss.
When she goes to the construction site to look around, she sees the foreman kicking his puppy. She confronts him, and, when that goes nowhere, she sneaks back late at night to steal the dog. Both times she runs into Truman Fleming, a construction worker who sticks up for her and loses his job in the process.
Truman isn’t just a construction worker. He’s the son of a wealthy senator and has grown tired of all the affectation around him and the way all of his friends, coworkers, and dates value money and position over more important things. He decides to chuck everything for a while and live like the other half. When Marcy shows up in his life, he is attracted to her against his will. He assumes she’s another trust-fund deb, shallow as a puddle. But by this time Marcy has made herself very conspicuous with Planners. They send a guy to warn her off the case. Truman is concerned about her and comes to her rescue time and again. But is there any future for two people from such different backgrounds who are pursuing completely opposite goals?
This was a fast read and there were plenty of light, humorous moments. Marcy and Truman are both fun, likable characters, although Marcy is better defined. She is pursuing the American Dream and trying not to lose herself in the process. The book was not laugh-out-loud funny, but many of Marcy’s observations about the people around her were amusing. And, unlike most books, this one actually got better as it progressed. The hash-it-out scene at the end was very good.
Of course, that hash-it-out scene is necessary because the plot is a mistaken identity one. This type of story requires plenty of deus ex machina plot maneuvering, and that is definitely present here. The last several chapters are a bit too neat, with things happening left and right to clean up any lingering messiness. Still, the story is well constructed and didn’t lag at all. I didn’t really mind that it was so predictable.
The book does have two decent-sized niggles, however. The first is that Truman is a kind, decent, honorable, but completely undefined character. Fox left many unanswered questions about his mindset and motivation. Why is he living in a slum? How does he really feel about his wealth? What are his plans for his future? Since none of these questions are really addressed, it’s a bit of a mystery why he’s taken such a drastic and unspecific step with his life. He’s not an adventure junkie, so he’s not living in the D. C. slums just for the life-and-death thrill of it. And he’s not a devoted do-gooder or voluntary simplicity enthusiast so his decision isn’t just an effect of his personal philosophy. So why is he doing this?
Also, Fox goes a little overboard with her anti-snobbery, anti-materialism message. Obviously, it’s not a good thing to be all surface, but Marcy definitely isn’t that. Her reasons for not wanting to get involved with Truman (he doesn’t have any money, he lives in a dangerous slum, he doesn’t appear to take any initiative, he can’t seem to keep a job) aren’t ridiculous, they are valid based on what she knows, or, rather, doesn’t know about him. She isn’t judgmental, she’s cautious, and, by making Marcy repent and castigate herself for her attitude, Fox implies that she’s prejudiced and ungenerous. She isn’t.
Yes, Man at Work has some flaws, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it. I liked Marcy and Truman, and I happily followed their adventures despite the somewhat unrealistic nature of the plot. Reading their story was a nice way to spend a summer evening.