Witty novel 'Citizen Girl' lacks focus

BY BERNIE NGUYEN
Daily Arts Writer
Published January 14, 2005

With their best-selling first novel “The Nanny Diaries,” Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus debuted as clever, intelligent young women who wove their real-life experiences into witty satire about upper-class Manhattanites. “Citizen Girl,” their second book, follows the same model: The novel is driven by social observation and turns a critical eye on the absurdities and hypocrisies of today’s cosmopolitan working world.The main character, Girl, is on the lookout for a life of her own. Two years out of Wesleyan University and working for a nonprofit activist who has turned her life into hell, she is fired (or quits, depending on who’s telling the story). After a grueling search, she takes a job at My Company, a web portal whose interests at first seem to mesh perfectly with her principles, as well as her need for a salary. However, the job later leads her into dangerous waters, and she finds herself conflicted between her ethics and her desire for success. With the voices of people who have been there, McLaughlin and Kraus imbue Girl with the idealistic traits of a fresh college graduate looking for a life of her own in the increasingly hectic and unforgiving environment of metropolitan business. “Citizen Girl” is humorously written, and the authors successfully maintain a witty voice as they chronicle Girl’s mishaps and emotional ups and downs. Her nail-biting worries drolly and accurately reflect the concerns hitting college graduates as they enter the workforce today. However, Girl always seems to exist in a perpetual haze of action. Though McLaughlin and Kraus are understandably trying to replicate the dizzying pace of twenty-something metropolitan life, the book seems too fast-paced and harried. Where Girl’s character should be the strongest focus of the book, the writing concentrates instead on the rush of events that surround her. Simply detailing a character’s reaction to outside events does not create a three-dimensional identity for that character, and the novel’s impact is considerably lessened because of this central flaw. Aside from Girl, McLaughlin and Kraus’s other characters also appear strangely flat. Girl’s frenzied, unpredictable new boss Guy and her lovable but undependable new boyfriend Buster somehow lack the presence of fully formed characters — not surprising in a novel without a sharp focus on its protagonist. The novel’s oddly abrupt finish is another flaw. The authors leave issues unresolved, and despite the entertaining writing, the novel’s climax is, unfortunately, unsatisfying. Its ending is insufficient to fulfill the expectations set forth by the authors’ use of such sophisticated and cosmopolitan prose.

Book Reviews

The main strength of “Citizen Girl” is undoubtedly the writing. McLaughlin and Kraus pinpoint their audience, using a voice that will appeal to young women in the world of employment today. Its weakness, however, is due to overambition. In trying to include all the aspects they see as relevant to Girl’s life, McLaughlin and Kraus spread the plot development too thinly over a storyline that would benefit from a sharpened focus. Despite its weaknesses, however, the book retains its appeal. It is good fiction, if not good literature, and puts a new face onto the legions of young women emerging from college full of hope and ready to take on the world.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.