Updated: Jan 30, 2020
TITLE: This Could Hurt: A Novel
AUTHOR: Jillian Medoff
PUBLISHED DATE: January 9, 2018
I started reading this and literally couldn't put it down. Medoff has written a novel that is relatable, accessible, and quite masterful in the telling of the ordinary lives of coworkers in a corporate human resources department. I have never worked in human resources or a corporate environment, and still found this highly relatable. From work spouses, to inter-office politics, Medoff shows the humanity and highly personal relationships in a place that is supposed to be very professional and guarded. I think this book will stay with me for a long time.
This Could Hurt centers around the alternating voices of five main protagonists in Ellery, a fictitious second rate corporation. Rosa, Rob, Lucy, Leo, and Kenny, all coworkers at Ellery, find themselves at different rungs on the career ladder within the human resources department. It is their job to hire and fire, and sometimes it is they who are brought down.
Rosa is the Chief of the department. She came up the hard way during a time when sexism and racism were rampant, and through hard work and determination she rose the ranks at Sony, and then at the Ellery corporation where she keeps the entire company afloat. She knows all of the details of every employee within the company and has the department down to a science. Since she has been responsible for hiring and training all of them, they all seem to be highly protective of her. And please note that I said seem.
Rob is the personable member of the team. He's been in charge of recruitment, a point he finds embarrassing as it has not afforded him the ability to become a homeowner or buy his family small luxuries. According to him, he earns the "wrong side of six figures". He hates his job with the only bright spot being his work wife, Lucy, and a distant friendship of Evan - a former employee whose departure broke Rob's heart.. Though he fantasizes about having a sexual relationship with Lucy, he is a happily married father of two daughters. A devastating career blow makes him realize that maybe he doesn't hate his job as much as he thinks he does...though he does go through a very realistic and painful soul searching.
Lucy is the talented and manipulative go-getter. Everyone on the team respects her and can't understand why she wastes her beauty and high intelligence in a place like Ellery. She is single, a point she finds unfortunate and loathes, and confides in a therapist about all of her work place and romantic troubles. An unexpected medical emergency happens to Rosa that proves to be an kind of windfall for Lucy, and one that she very shrewdly uses to her advancement.
Leo is in charge of employee benefits. He's had several dalliances with closeted gay men in the office, a point that often sends him into a depression when things don't work out. He throws himself into his work, and relies on his coworkers to get through. They in turn find him to be a very dependable and nurturing colleague and friend both inside and outside of work. As he is on a path to authenticity, he challenges the prejudices of his friend Rob, finds true love, and goes on to pursue his life's passion.
Kenny graduated from the Ivy League and is the token black guy of the department. He dreams of finding a position in a top tier company so that he can be more competitive with his high achieving and highly successful attorney wife. After making disparaging comments about Rosa and flaking out at work, he is accused of being arrogant and lazy. He then becomes a victim of office social isolation. His come-to-Jesus moment happens when he discovers that his brilliant wife is cheating on him and that his future at Ellery is insecure - he bounces back from a rather humiliating career setback with a little help from a cheerful new assistant named Katherine.
I honestly can go on and on about this book - though I've revealed a lot - there's still a lot of surprises left in the book, with witty dialogue and universal truths abounding. I could totally see this as a TV show or movie...kind of in the realm of a mashup of This is Us and first season Grey's Anatomy with all the subtlety, nuance and sex of an HBO drama or Mad Men. Ok, I'm done...go forth and readeth this book!
Recommendation: Are you still here?! Read it already!
Audience: Millennials and Beyond