Careers for Women

Written by Joanna Scott
Review by Kristen McDermott

The punning title of this sharp and clever novel hints at its complexity: it explores the interconnected personal and professional lives of four 20th-century women by careering from decade to decade. There is a mystery at the heart of this tale, but a summary can’t do justice to the inventive shifts of tone and voice that Scott achieves as she follows these women story by story, just as the Twin Towers that stand at the center of the narrative were constructed.

Pioneering Port Authority executive Lee, desperate single mother Pauline, tormented housewife Kay, and the quietly watchful narrator, Maggie, all struggle to define themselves in a world built by men. “I felt as if the old rules of cause and effect were obsolete,” explains Maggie, and orders her tale of Pauline’s perils and triumphs in a stream-of-consciousness style anchored by her careful, analytical voice. This is a literary novel that may seem fragmentary at first, but that slowly reveals its shape and logic as you read. Maggie appears to be a cold, dispassionate narrator at first, but her ability to imagine the feelings and thoughts of her subjects contributes an emotional punch to their narratives, and a smidge of magical realism here and there gives this novel a lyrical brilliance that balances the elegiac tone afflicting any story that culminates in the fate of the World Trade Center.