By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Book: Piece of Work

I'm still not all that sure I like the protagonist in "Piece of Work." Julia is so, so self-absorbed and so, so clueless about that.

But I like that the novel provides an intimate look at several worlds very different than my own -- the world of New York suburbanites who think nothing of an hour's train ride into the city for work; the world of people who can fill a cart at the Container Store without looking at the price tags; the world of women who struggle with choices between family and career.

Zigman does a good job with the latter, by the way, showing how difficult it is for Julia to leave her 3-year-old and return to work (and no, I don't think that conflicts with what I said about the character's self-absorption, since Julia thinks in terms of how hard it is for her, not what it might be doing to her son).

Julia once was a high-powered PR agent who specialized in holding celebrity's hands as they braved paparazzi and tabloids -- or,in the case of has-been celebrities, the lack thereof. (Perhaps the most ridiculous job in the world!)

She quit to be a stay-at-home mom to Leo, the baby she named after her older brother, who died at age 7 -- an interesting, but almost wholly unexplored, part of her personality.

After her husband loses his job, she decides to return to work. Since she's been out of the loop for three years, and hasn't even kept up with the latest movies, she's eligible for at job at only the worst agency, with a seemingly terrible boss (again, a concept started, but not explored fully). 

She's hired to assist a notoriously difficult diva with the launch of a new perfume. The former star is certainly a "piece of work"; she's nasty to everyone, she steals clothes from photo shoots; and she's nothing but abusive to Julia.

But, thinking of mortgage payments, Leo's fancy-schmancy preschool tuition and Container Store shopping, Julia soldiers on!

The book has a lot of good humor. Run-on sentences, which mimic stream-of-though, can be hard to follow at times, but mostly it's well written and worth a quick read.

"Piece of Work," by Laura Zigman, 2006, Warner Books.

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