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Kathleen Jones
The War on Sarah Morris
What happens when one day, without any warning whatsoever, your secure corporate job suddenly becomes precarious? And all of your professional duties get taken away, leaving you with nothing but repetitive, mind-numbing tasks? Sarah Morris, a 49-year-old editor at a Toronto book publisher, finds herself in this predicament in October 2010, when Quill Pen Press, the company she has faithfully served for twenty-one years, undergoes a reorganization in the aftermath of the 2008 Recession. Concerned only with preserving her own cushy job, Gillian Martin, Sarah’s selfish boss, gives all of the company’s book editing projects to freelancers and to Derek Witowsky, her pet employee, unofficially demoting Sarah and two of her colleagues, who are now expected to spend their days on tagging and formatting documents. When the two younger colleagues leave to pursue better opportunities, Gillian dumps all of their data entry tasks on Sarah and pressures her to complete an ever-growing mountain of work in less and less time, while taking away her right to paid overtime. At first, Sarah is afraid to face the truth; she tells herself that she will get her old job back once the economy improves. But when Gillian starts bullying her, she realizes that her company doesn’t have her best interests at heart and that she’s been pigeonholed into a dead-end job.
In this tense, funny novel, Sarah Morris, a 49 year-old editor, faces upheaval at the publishing company, Quill Pen Press, where she's worked for the past 21 years. Though there is no change in her job title or pay, all of her job responsibilities are now different and she is forced to do overtime without pay for new daily tasks that she hates. With a recession ravaging hopes of economic stability, and finding herself her family’s sole income-earner following her husband’s dismissal from his banking job, Sarah must decide what steps she needs to take in her career to find her way back to being happy in the workplace. Does she dare a job search, as she puts it, “In middle age. In a crappy job market … that’s hostile to older people like me”?

Sarah exemplifies the emotional turmoil many feel when facing discontent in the workplace as Jones delves into self-doubt, the fear of starting over, and being complacent in a dead-end job. With wit, snark, and a striking sense of all-too-real realism, Jones writes a relatable and personable narrative about being pigeon-holed and feeling stuck with work that is no longer fulfilling or providing the space or opportunity for advancement. Exploring toxic work cultures, micromanagers, and workplace favoritism, The War on Sarah Morris is punchy and pained, outraged and comic, offering much that readers—especially women working in troubled industries—will find resonant. While set in 2011, the novel feels pointedly of the moment.

Jones convincingly captures the inner workings of a publisher and the ever-increasing responsibilities that fall onto lower level staffers, plus the indignities of a job search, from “biographical resumes” to pop-quiz writing assignments in job interviews. In this, Jones blends the engagingly dishy with sharp-elbowed analysis of power dynamics. Readers who have ever worked under tyrannical managers or for companies who only care about how much money is coming in will be impacted and feel a personal connection to Sarah's struggle.

Takeaway: Sharp-elbowed novel of a woman facing a job hunt after 20 years in publishing.

Comparable Titles: Lisa Owens’s Not Working, Liz Talley's Adulting.

Production grades
Cover: B+
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A