The Work Wife is an engaging novel centering on a day in the life of three women who work for a movie mogul in Los Angeles. It has an engaging story, but it will also make you think about your values and whether you really have to do what you think you have to do to get what you want.
Contents of this Article
Discussion Questions for “The Work Wife”
When you lead a book club discussion, don’t try to rush and try to include as many people as possible. Find more details in our general guide for book club discussions.
- In a perfect world, what would you like to accomplish in your career? What do you dream about?
- If you found yourself in a very wealthy family, what do you think would be important to you?
- How do you think women are treated differently in the workplace?
- What is your response to Phoebe’s refusal to take production money from Ted?
- Would there be another way for Zanne to cope with the ethical dilemmas she has about her job without giving it up entirely?
- What is the purpose of Ted Stabler as a character in this novel? His talent is never questioned, yet he is not affected by his ethical failings. If there were a sequel to this novel, how would you imagine their relationship might change or stay the same?
- How does the ad Holly posts for Zanne’s promised job serve as a catalyst (agent of change), or does it?
For these questions, either choose the characters you want to focus on or discuss all three. It would also work to discuss both questions for each character, one by one.
- Are there any places in the novel where you feel the female characters undermine their own success?
- Would the female characters encounter the same issues they do if they were male?
Who is Alison B. Hart?
Alison B. Hart grew up in Los Angeles but currently lives in North Carolina. In The Work Wife, she draws on her experience as a personal assistant; she is somewhat the basis for Zanne. The Work Wife is her first novel, but you can read one of her articles/stories (you figure out what it is) here, on LitHub.
I enjoyed learning about the process of finding out if writing is something you really want to pursue from this interview in Nerd Daily.
Background Information for “The Work Wife”
The “Family Office”
I had never heard of a “family office” before I read The Work Wife, but the concept makes sense. Think how hard it is for most of us to manage our pedestrian little middle-class lives, and then think how hard it would be to manage any kind of staff at all in your home and still have time to actually live your life.
I’ve had the opportunity to be around (on the far, far periphery) some VIPs in a couple of schools I’ve been in, and I’ve seen how much staff it takes to stage an event…and of course, the central players have to look good and participate in the event too!
“Family Offices” are real. The super rich have their own family offices, such as the Sam Walton family’s nondescript offices in Arkansas. The less super rich might belong to a “shared” family office, where one company manages the affairs of several families.
Ironically, Zanne massively understates the role and purpose of a Family Office when she describes it on page 53. Managing the family’s personal lives is a small part of what a family office does, as you can see from this sample organizational chart. It’s more about managing the family’s business and legal matters. As you can see from the chart, the Administrative Staff is just one department under Operations.
The idea, however, is that a Family Office is different than a family business. There’s no “WalMart” sign on the Walton family office!
Of course, compared to the members of the Walton Family, the wealthiest filmmakers live in comparative poverty, so I suppose Zanne must be working for a low-stakes operation, despite the research she quotes in the book. Not that I would know.
The look “behind the scenes” of a family office and the life of the wealthy in The Work Wife is enjoyable. It certainly made me stop and think about my values too!
The Structure of “The Work Wife”
When I started reading The Work Wife, I wondered if I were reading another homage to 80’s bestsellers, such as those written by Judith Krantz and Olivia Goldsmith á la Jamie Brenner’s Blush. Instead of a sprawling saga, however, Alison B. Hart’s novel is tightly constructed, with all the action happening on one day and in one place.
If this structure seems familiar, it may be that you encountered it before. The idea of having unity of time, place, and action was derived from Aristotle’s Poetics, who described some of the principles in Greek tragedy.
In fact, when I realized what the author was going far, I got a little nervous because I didn’t want this story to turn into a tragedy! Luckily, it doesn’t.
At any rate, the entire plot of the novel almost completely takes place in one location on one day, with flashbacks. To me, this structure heightens the sense of the company/home being very insular.
Point of View in “The Work Wife”
There are three different points of view: Zanne, a senior member of Ted Stabler’s administrative team, Holly, his wife, and Phoebe, his former business partner. The three women represent different female experiences, but they all underscore the difficulties that women continue to face in the workplace in the post #MeToo era.
The benefit of the varying points of view is that it gives us, as readers, different points of connection. You might find yourself connecting with one character most of the time, but find some connections with others that might surprise you.
Please share your thoughts and comments about The Work Wife below, and happy reading!