Fortune magazine columnist Stanley Bing is the perfect
author to write a novel that captures the true essence of corporate
America in the late 1990s. Bing's YOU LOOK NICE TODAY portrays in
fine detail how zany and decadent the end of the era was as he
disguises his work around a sexual harassment lawsuit.
Stock options, exorbitant salaries, lavish expense accounts and
endless junkets are all a major part of this book. And of course,
no novel about corporate America in the late 1990s would be
complete without a token reference to Starbucks Coffee.
The novel is narrated in fine fashion throughout by Fredrick Tell,
the best friend of the story's main character, Robert Harbert.
These two men work side by side as high-profile executives at
Global Fiduciary Trust in Chicago. But on the day Harbert hires
CaroleAnne Winter as his new executive assistant, his life and
Tell's change forever.
Harbert is clearly smitten with the younger and highly organized
CaroleAnne --- so smitten in fact that he comes up with a nickname
for her, gives her his used car and sets her up in an apartment to
escape the clutches of an abusive relationship. And if things
couldn't get any worse, Harbert, who Tell refers to as "Harb", digs
into his own pocket to give his leggy sexpot a bonus.
While Harbert becomes more deeply involved with CaroleAnne, there
is never even a mention by Bing of some extramarital affair between
the boss and his vivacious underling. But before you know it,
CarolAnne decides to stop making coffee and slaps down upon Harbert
a sexual harassment lawsuit that fingers not only him, but other
administrative assistants and executives as well.
Bing's novel also touches upon how corporate America at the time
and even today views executives in the twilight of their careers.
Despite being given a substantial financial package, Harbert
realizes that his days are over due to his age and the amount of
gray hair atop his head. Tell laments about the loss of Harbert's
friendship in the workplace.
The trial itself is possibly Bing at his best. Some of the
proceedings, such as the opening arguments, are presented as actual
court records and contain hilarious footnotes written by Tell. Many
times while reading the book, this reviewer busted out laughing at
these numerous footnotes. During CaroleAnne's testimony, Tell
informs the reader that Harbert, instead of listening to her, sits
and plays Game Boy, utterly unaware of his former secretary's
YOU LOOK NICE TODAY works because of Bing's narrator. Without Tell,
this novel would not have been as good. Tell encompasses the entire
story flawlessly and keeps it grounded, while Harbert gets tossed
out by his wife --- but not before final copulation.
Unfortunately the novel does sputter at times, though it never
breaks down. Bing spends too much time on Harbert in the latter
part of the novel and not enough on CaroleAnne. Furthermore,
Harbert's wife seems too superfluous and comes off as being
superficial at best.
Although YOU LOOK NICE TODAY is purely fictional, it does a
triumphant job in detailing the conclusion of corporate excess in
America at the end of the 1990s.
Reviewed by David Exum on January 24, 2011
You Look Nice Today: A Novel