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You Look Nice Today, by Stanley Bing Bloomsbury; 291 pages A novel about an employment lawsuit, set in a bland company staffed by colorless employees, seems more likely to have the soporific effect of an 8 a.m. meeting than to amuse in-house counsel. But You Look Nice Today, the second novel from Fortune magazine columnist and corporate executive Stanley Bing (his nom de plume), is a fun, quick read. It manages to entertain while also questioning whether professional success � and its trappings � is quite as important as we’ve all been led to believe. Robert Harbert (“Harb”), an executive vice president of Global Corporation’s Total Quality department, is an expense account�exploiting, Z3-driving, middle-aged corpo-crat. But the arrival of his new assistant, the gorgeous and efficient CaroleAnne Winter, shakes up his sleepy work life. Like Amity Harbor in the days before Jaws started dismembering swimmers, neither Global Corporation nor Harb are prepared for CaroleAnne’s arrival. But there are inklings of trouble � she impolitely calls the company’s patriarch by his first name � and we’re left to think that, at the very least, CaroleAnne will need some lessons in corporate etiquette. But then CaroleAnne’s abusive husband surfaces; Harb gets her a fancy corporate apartment so she can escape; and the plot rapidly thickens. A smitten Harb grants CaroleAnne generous raises and writes her bonus checks from his personal account. He gives her his old car. And he takes her on business trips, dancing on the edge of infidelity. “His feelings about CaroleAnne were deeply embarrassing to him, because they gave him the kind of pleasure that does not belong in any workplace. She made him happy,” Bing writes. Time with CaroleAnne is an escape from the routine and responsibility, the monotony and monogamy of Harb’s bourgeois life. Even as we watch Harb flirt with CaroleAnne over hotel cocktails, while his wife waits cluelessly at home, part of us secretly roots for him. But trouble is inevitable. CaroleAnne abruptly slips into religious zealotry, chanting and burning incense in conference rooms. When the vice president of HR, Fred Tell, explains the inappropriateness of this behavior, CaroleAnne responds with a “trembly lecture on cultural tolerance.” Tell realizes: “We were entering a region where no Human Resources professionals go without an attorney.” CaroleAnne has become “the face of madness.” Rather than fire her, Harb orchestrates a reassignment, knowing that as “a woman of matchless corporate record, nearing forty, of an indeterminate race. . . . She was safer than a Supreme Court justice” from getting fired. But CaroleAnne doesn’t take the new job quietly. Instead, she files a $150 million lawsuit against Global Corporation for sex discrimination. The subsequent trial provides the book’s emotional climax. Part of what saves You Look Nice Today from being just another legal tale is the disarmingly witty and likable voice of its narrator, Fred Tell. He is hilariously fluent in the corporate argot that anyone who has spent time in a cube or corner office will recognize. Tell sardonically pokes fun at the banalities of corporate America while reminding us that the institutions that give us comfort and security can also be repressive and suffocating. The book’s only flaws are Bing’s tendency to employ certain not-so-subtle tricks � such as revealing Harb’s growing infatuation with CaroleAnne through increasingly dopey nicknames he bestows upon her � and to disappoint us by relegating funny, interesting characters to minor roles. As Harb’s case goes to trial, he experiences a personal unraveling of his own (we won’t spoil the fun by revealing the details here). Bing paints it as a catharsis. But as the jury deliberates Harb’s fate, we too are left wondering if Harb would be better off without his corner office and two-car garage. CaroleAnne’s arrival, which seems so regrettable for most of the novel, ultimately liberates him from the confines of everything that he � and so many of us � has always wanted. Coster is an assistant editor at Corporate Counsel.

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