Alex Lyons starts her work day before 6:30 each morning. At least the commute from her bedroom to her living room couch isn’t too tough, but that walk is often the only movement she gets all day. In Jessica Grose’s novel Sad Desk Salad, Alex is one of four writers for a website called Chick Habit, and in her professional world of covering mostly celebrity gossip she’s never able to stray too far from her laptop.
With her experience as an editor for Jezebel, Grose is in a good position to fictionalize the work of a writer for an uber-popular women’s website. With deadlines for multiple postings a day that are mostly celebrity-fueled, the protagonist Alex spends her days searching the Internet for the it stories of the day, so she can reshape them in her own words and get it retold on Chick Habit’s site. Her boss Moira is always electronically looking over her shoulder, IMing her throughout the day, with the constant expectation of immediate response. Alex is aware of her presence and the pressure that it represents, and she’s well aware that web traffic is the key to holding on to her job. As a result, the more snarky she can be or the juicier a story she can write, the more likely she is to still have a job at the end of the month.
When an email lands in her inbox that seems to hold a key to her biggest story yet, Alex doesn’t think on it too long. An expose on the squeaky-clean daughter of a self-proclaimed parenting expert-turned-politician that includes video evidence of the girl’s risque, and even illegal, behavior would be the key to securing her position for sure. What Alex may not be able to foresee is the effect that this one story will have on her own life.
I enjoyed this contemporary tale of a blogger who is forced toward some self-examination for its wit and sharpness. From the beginning, Alex is quick to admit to a feeling of “ick” about her job, but this is what brings home the paycheck she needs, and she couldn’t find a way to do it writing the more serious pieces that fulfilled her during college. Instead, she finds herself among those scarfing down a quick salad, hence the brilliant title, while still sitting across from her laptop in an effort not to miss a moment.
I can’t say that I’m a huge reader of the websites that Chick Habit is fashioned after, but I certainly see these types of stories popping up in my Facebook feed all the time, and I’ve wondered what it must be like for the writers behind all these posts. In the age of celebrity overdose, Sad Desk Salad is a funny and thoughtful examination of our Internet culture in the form of an entertaining novel.
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