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This Could Hurt

Review

This Could Hurt

Fortunately, 10 years on, the financial crisis that nearly collapsed the US economy in 2008 and 2009 is becoming a faint memory for many Americans, even those for whom the crisis precipitated a return to school or a change in career. Perhaps, a decade later, we’re ready for a fictional portrayal of those turbulent times that’s actually funny and poignant simultaneously. That’s what Jillian Medoff has delivered in her new novel, THIS COULD HURT.

The book centers on the HR department at Ellery Research, a market research company that, like much of corporate America, has had to shift its priorities and make some tough choices in the wake of the global recession. Set in late 2009 and 2010, THIS COULD HURT portrays a company --- and, more relevantly, its employees --- still very much shaken up and unsure of themselves, waiting for the other shoe to drop in the wake of layoffs and cutbacks.

"THIS COULD HURT is a penetrative novel about how work --- even the work we might resent or despise at times --- forges strange and wonderful relationships and forces difficult choices."

At the helm of HR is Rosa Guerrero, who has devoted nearly her entire career to human resources and doing her best work for the employees at Ellery Research. She is a competent manager who seems to genuinely care about her employees. Since her husband’s recent death, work has come to mean even more to her.

Around Rosa are a group of middle managers --- Lucy Bender, Leo Smalls, Rob Hirsch and Kenny Verville --- all of whom have their own struggles and dilemmas. Lucy, the communications chief, is perhaps not a natural leader but is ambitious and angling to become Rosa’s deputy. Leo, the benefits manager, is lonely and searching for love (it doesn’t help that his ex-boyfriend was on Ellery’s IT staff). Rob is tired of recruiting and has started to let his responsibilities slide, perhaps at his own peril. And Kenny, who is successful but whose ambition pales in comparison to that of his Wall Street–bound wife, is certain that Ellery is just a stepping stone to something much more prestigious.

Like most of us, many of the characters, with the possible exception of Rosa, fall somewhere between passionate and apathetic when it comes to their attitudes about work, as they struggle to navigate the intersections of their personal lives with their professional selves. When Rosa experiences a health crisis, the new roles taken on by her staff help to define what she means to them --- and perhaps what they mean to one another.

Near the end of the novel, during a speech at the annual meeting, Rosa shares the greatest lesson she has learned in business: “A working life doesn’t just keep you solvent, it defines you, shapes your character, reveals what you’re made of.” Rosa firmly believes this, and even if the rest of her staff might not agree entirely, what happens over the course of the book might just prove that Rosa is right after all.

Divided into sections from each character’s point of view, the narrative also includes some whimsical touches, some of which are more successful than others (Lucy’s section is punctuated by footnotes, for example, and the denouement is told through a series of org charts). Overall, however, THIS COULD HURT is a penetrative novel about how work --- even the work we might resent or despise at times --- forges strange and wonderful relationships and forces difficult choices.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 2, 2018

This Could Hurt
by Jillian Medoff

  • Publication Date: January 9, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • ISBN-10: 0062660764
  • ISBN-13: 9780062660763