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Whisper Network

Review

Whisper Network

“If only you’d listened to us, none of this would have happened.” How many women have repeated this phrase after business meetings, during arguments with significant others, and whenever new policies about women’s bodies lead to gruesome results? In WHISPER NETWORK by Chandler Baker, four women learn that their powerful boss --- a man who always has been surrounded by whispers --- is next in line to become CEO of their company. With his promotion imminent, these women decide they will no longer tolerate hands on their thighs, misogynistic comments and thinly veiled sexual threats. Instead, they will enact a far-reaching and all-consuming network of whispers that will change their lives forever.

Sloane, Ardie and Grace have all worked as in-house lawyers for Truviv, a sportswear company, for years. Sloane is Senior Vice President of Truviv, and although her work comes first, she is also dealing with bullying in her daughter’s school. Ardie is a recently divorced tax lawyer who has decided to release herself from the beauty game that professional women are required to play, focusing instead on missing her ex-husband and trying out online dating for the first time. Sweet, religious Grace has just welcomed a newborn to whom she feels no connection, and yet she relishes the hour she is given at work to pump and lock herself away for some quiet, peaceful reflection. Together, they are high-powered, high-income lawyers, but this has never protected them from much of anything as far as their male coworkers are concerned.

This is especially true when it comes to the head of their department, General Counsel Ames Garrett. Ames is a complicated man: he is handsome and outwardly kind, and believes that postpartum depression is real, but he also thinks that women can be too emotional during “that time of the month” and that there is nothing wrong with commenting on his female employees’ physiques (so long as it is complimentary). To some readers, he may appear to be a walking contradiction, but to many more, he will seem as common as one’s neighbor, friend or even husband.

"Chandler Baker has crafted the perfect novel for our time, and I have no doubt that WHISPER NETWORK will be a true conversation starter that will span gender, class and readers’ own preconceived beliefs."

For years, these three women (particularly Sloane and Ardie) have rolled their eyes and comforted one another when Ames becomes too domineering or too critical of his female employees, but something changes on the day their CEO dies. Not only is Ames the most reasonable choice to replace him, their department has welcomed a new employee named Katherine. She is young and beautiful, and immediately becomes Ames’ right-hand woman. After enduring years of his advances, crude comments and more, Sloane decides she will not let another woman fall into his trap. So when she learns of an anonymous BAD (Beware of Asshole Dallas) Men list that has been circulating among women in Dallas, she adds Ames’ name to it, thereby setting off not only a shocking death, but also a chaotic chain of events that threatens to cost all three women their careers, marriages and lives.

Of course, any woman who follows the news (particularly now during the #MeToo era) will readily tell you that to accuse a man of sexual assault is no easy feat. When Ames catches wind of the whispers around him, Sloane, Ardie and Grace are swept up into a killer lawsuit led by their own company that forces them to examine and disclose their every move around Ames --- how much they had to drink at company outings, if they ever said a kind word to their own boss, and even their private chats with one another. Baker weaves in snippets of depositions, cross-examinations and police interviews that highlight the cruelty to which women who accuse high-profile men are subjected. Words are twisted, meanings are manipulated and the women are practically flayed --- all at the hands of their own company, where they have secured million-dollar deals, worked impossible hours and covered for their male colleagues’ shortcomings (all while looking like swimsuit models, of course).

And what about the fourth woman who dares to bring Ames’ world crashing down? WHISPER NETWORK is also told from the point of view of Rosalita, a cleaning lady at Truviv who has seen it all --- from Ames’ advances on his employees to the drunken crying sessions the women sometimes need at night after a meeting. From an outside view, Rosalita can see the women’s efforts for what they really are: justice. She also provides a necessary and refreshing foil to the privileged lives of Sloan, Ardie and Grace. As a custodian and single mother, Rosalita cannot afford (literally or figuratively) to go after the men who have behaved badly around her. And yet, at the moment of need, she proves her worth in more ways than one.

It should come as no surprise that WHISPER NETWORK draws on the #MeToo movement and often feels “ripped from the headlines,” but it is so much more than a social response. Baker blends thriller elements with painfully realistic themes like perfection, motherhood, privilege, corporate culture and female friendship. Her characters (perhaps with the exception of Rosalita) are not always likable. They are frustrated, depressed and angry, and they make mistakes, particularly when it comes to their own friendships, but they are unflinchingly real, which elevates the book to one of 2019’s best releases.

WHISPER NETWORK is brilliantly crafted, and Baker explores not only the timely stories we all recognize, such as a circulated list of men to avoid, but also the intricacies and blurred lines of office settings, particularly when it comes to friendship and romance. She unpacks every element of sexual harassment and assault, forcing all readers, male and female, to confront their innermost thoughts and beliefs about women’s rights and safety. Baker delivers a strong and unignorable message, but at no point does her novel come off as overbearing or issue-based. She balances all of the most timely and controversial moments with a compelling “whodunit” that will keep readers guessing until the final pages.

Chandler Baker has crafted the perfect novel for our time, and I have no doubt that WHISPER NETWORK will be a true conversation starter that will span gender, class and readers’ own preconceived beliefs.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on July 12, 2019

Whisper Network
by Chandler Baker

  • Publication Date: July 2, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Flatiron Books
  • ISBN-10: 1250319471
  • ISBN-13: 9781250319470