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Book Review :: Help Wanted by Adelle Waldman

Review by Kevin Brown

It’s clear from Adelle Waldman’s second novel, Help Wanted, that she has worked in retail before, specifically in the warehouse section. Her story follows a small group of workers who arrive before the big-box store, Town Square, opens, so they can unload the truck, break down the boxes, and stock the shelves. While the plot focuses on the question of who will become the new general manager and, thus, which of the main cast of characters would take over as the manager of Movement—the business-speak title for the warehouse team—the real heart of the novel are the characters and their struggles.

They struggled in school, whether because they were uninterested, had undiagnosed learning disabilities, or encountered financial or family hardships, leading their lives to end up in the warehouse. Some of them are divorced and juggle childcare obligations; some are single and trying to figure out how to create a life; all of them have dreams, even if that’s nothing more than to move up one rung in the Town Square corporate ladder.

The backdrop for the novel heightens their concerns even more, as Potterstown, where the store is located, has never recovered from the 2008 financial crash and companies’ decisions to move to other countries, where labor costs are cheaper. And, of course, there’s the competition with the online retailer, whom the characters never name.

The team does find moments of joy and companionship, especially when they are all working toward a common goal that they, not management, define, but the book is not ultimately hopeful. Instead, Waldman creates real characters with real struggles that will persist for most, if not all, of their lives. She bears witness to the realities of those who work in the warehouse of the world, where most of us never think to look.

Help Wanted by Adelle Waldman. W.W. Norton, March 2024.

Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. Twitter @kevinbrownwrite

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