The New Girl
This is a story of three women and a tangled web of secrets and fears that leads them to despair, paranoia – and eventually murder.
Margot Jones is a magazine editor at the fashion monthly Haute, and is on the cusp of heading out on her maternity leave. One of her last duties before doing so is to train Maggie Beecher, the young, ambitious temp who will be briefly replacing her during her absence. While Margot selected Maggie personally to handle office life in her stead, as she becomes more closely acquainted with Maggie’s Eve Harrington-esque bright-eyed social climbing, Margot grows concerned she’ll be replaced by the younger woman and her fresh, thrilling ideas.
Our third narrator is Winnie Clough, Margot’s former best friend, who was due at the same time as Margot but delivered her son early. The boy survived for a day but died due to complications from his birth, and Winnie has responded to her personal tragedy by becoming an agoraphobic shut-in, refusing to see her best friend and confront Margot’s happy pregnancy.
Into the middle of this drama comes a cyberstalker going by the screen name HelenKnows – someone who knows too much about Margot’s uncouth past, and someone who is willing to threaten the lives of Margot and her unborn child to get what they want. Helen, you see, met with an unfortunate fate – a fate that only Winnie and Margot know about. Who is HelenKnows? Might it be a jealous Winnie? The determined Maggie? Either way, Margot’s not going to go down without a fight.
The New Girl is less a thriller than a slice of women’s fiction wrapped in a chewy thriller-based outer layer. Never quite comfortable in either genre, it flutters between thought processes and plot threads like a hummingbird on speed, providing the reader with a novel that’s only moderately satisfying.
Margot, Maggie and Winnie are all desperately sympathetic in their own ways, each with their own paranoias, weaknesses and fears. Therefore, it’s not shocking that the identity of the person behind HelenKnows is supplied by Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters. The ride there turns genuinely suspenseful by the middle of the book, with the first half centered on Margot and Maggie jockeying each other for respect and attention on the job for far too long. It takes a long time for The New Girl to give us Winnie’s point of view on anything, and to that end the tension is somewhat muted.
The most interesting thing about the way Walker writes her novel is that Margot, Maggie and Winnie each have such distinct voices. It’s impossible to mistake Margot’s poetic inner voice for Maggie’s juvenile tones, or Winnie’s grief-soaked brio. In the middle of the story, when we flash back to Margot and Winnie’s coming of age and meet the daring Helen, a fascinating, realistic coming of age tale emerges, but does not linger for long enough to paint a fresh and captivating picture.
The New Girl has many compelling points and scenes, but its disjointedness, its inability to master any of the genres it tries, makes it squarely average.