Millie’s supervisor approaches her desk and asks to see the “welcome packets”—junk mailers—she’s been compiling. They walk to the copy room. The supervisor holds the papers and sighs. After Millie’s mind wanders through other recent office horrors, her focus returns to the present moment to realize: “She seems to be showing me how to use a paper clip.” Small part on the front, large part on the bottom.
The supervisor demonstrates.
The right way and the wrong way.
“Oh, okay, that makes sense,” Millie says.
“It’s a matter of style,” the supervisor says.
This excruciating interaction could be said to drag on for an impossibly long time except anyone who’s worked in an office has been trapped in airless, endless, desperate conversations just like this.
As Millie hangs on to her latest temp job, her inner monologues are so dense with murderous disgust at everyone around her, these coworkers straining their voices high to compliment each other so they don't tear each other apart, that it’s easy to wonder if Halle Butler’s The New Me, now out in paperback, will become the kind of office satire that racks up a body count—even as we relate to everything Millie is going through.
The novel is mostly told in the first-person, and in the present tense, but in the windows between her live temp-to-perm excoriations, Butler shows us Millie’s blind spots.
Her mental health is slipping, her apartment is growing so squalid it’s basically fermenting, and she’s completely oblivious to the actual dynamic she shares with her only so-called friend, Sarah, who wants only to vent about her own life and career, and resents Millie’s complaints since Millie doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to build either thing for herself. And also, Millie’s parents cover her rent. Sarah can’t just walk out of offices she doesn’t like, as Millie has done, no matter what these jobs can do to a person’s soul.
Millie’s twin struggles—will she pull it together? should she?—conclude with a happy-ending horror. PLEASE READ
The New Me by Halle Butler, from Penguin