Young and Desperate Tales of NYC in Debut Novel “Under the Influence”

Noelle Crooks’ debut novel was tabbed an “editor’s pick, best literature and fiction” by Amazon which describes it as “The Devil Wears Prada” meets “The Assistants.” The novel follows the ups and downs of a 27-year-old single woman who is suddenly offered a big salary to become a “badass babe Visionary Support Strategist” reporting to a self-help influencer guru and CEO.

| 12 Oct 2023 | 01:42

Ah, to be young, desperate, and living in New York City.

Even though it’s been four decades since I made my own big move from the Bronx to Manhattan, I found myself remembering standing familiarly in the shoes of 27-year-old Harper Cruz, the protagonist in Noelle Crooks’ debut novel, Under The Influence.

Harper, an NYU grad originally from upstate, has decided to make her home in the place where “if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere” to break into the post-pandemic world of publishing.

And like so many, she has brought her fantasies with her; the ones where the newbie Manhattanite meets a young Mr. Big, gets a rent-controlled two-bedroom with a balcony like Monica Geller, and lands a high-profile, entry-level position that “a million girls would kill for” like Andy Sachs. (There’s really nothing like NYC seen through the Hollywood gaze.)

It doesn’t take long to find out—as I did, and others do presently, no doubt—that the struggle is actually real.

Harper’s been laid off from two jobs so far, one as an assistant at a literary agency that folded and the other at a small publishing house that merged with a bigger one, which did not require her services. She supplements her current role as a freelancer with a weekend cater-waiter job and a second side hustle editing college essays.

So how is this wannabe writer able to reside in the borough that CNBC reports is the most expensive place to live in the U.S.?

Why, via the kindness of her former colleague-cum-roommate, the beautiful and wealthy Poppy whose parents allow Harper to pay what she can towards the maintenance on the two-bedroom UES co-op the young women share. (At least the Friends fantasy came true.)

We all might not have a BFF like Poppy, but we all know someone like her whose life follows a natural progression, starting on the first rung of the corporate ladder with one promotion after another (Poppy is already an editor). While advancing in her career, Poppy’s personal life follows suit. The Hadid doppelganger has a boyfriend and Harper feels like the third wheel and figures she’s living in the apartment on borrowed time.

But it’s Poppy to the rescue once again when she alerts her pal to a job post for a “badass babe Visionary Support Strategist” reporting to Charlotte Green, the self-help influencer guru and CEO of The Greenhouse. The gig pays five times what Harper was making at her last job. All she has to do is move to Nashville.

Even though her dream was always #NewYorkOrNowhere, if Harper doesn’t accept the offer that comes unnervingly fast, she’ll have to return home to her parents and a position at the Poughkeepsie Press.

She packs her bags for Music City.

What follows is a fast-paced, enjoyable read that embraces the mentor/fallen idol theme often seen in women’s workplace fiction, including my own.

It also demonstrates how our pop culture-loving society bombards us via social media and emails with messaging that starts by calling us “#girlboss” and plays into our “FOMO” before trying to convince us we’re part of an “exclusive group” chosen to receive their offer while reminding us how inclusive they are.

If you delve a little deeper you see that Crooks does too.

She shows how even savvy New Yorkers when in a vulnerable state, can fall for something shiny or miss red flags (or purposely ignore them) because we so much need our lives to change.

We also see that even after one faces the reality of a dubious job situation, especially when we’ve grown accustomed to the perks, accolades, and mentorship albeit disingenuous, it’s hard to extricate one’s self. “Isn’t there a way to turn this around so I don’t have to start over, again?” we might ask.

I wanted to quickly get to the end of Under the Influence to see how Harper would save herself. And I was not disappointed.

Sometimes all you need is a positive influence.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of three novels, the latest title is THE LAST SINGLE WOMAN IN NEW YORK CITY (Heliotrope Books).