BY TARA SMITH
Camille Perri has never embezzled thousands of dollars from her boss. Not even while she was working as an assistant to the editor of Esquire magazine. The thought did, however, cross her mind, which inspired her to write her debut novel, “The Assistants.”
The quick beach-read is relatable to anyone who has ever felt like they were overeducated and underpaid, and Perri will be stopping in Patchogue as part of her upcoming book tour. For the Library in the Lobby Series, Perri will be giving a talk and signing books on Wednesday, May 10 from 7-9 p.m. at the Patchogue Theatre. Tickets are free, but space is limited, so reserve tickets by calling the box office at 631-207-1313 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
First of all, I loved ‘The Assistants’! How did you come up with the idea?
I got the idea while working as an assistant to the editor-in-chief of Esquire. One day, I was doing his expenses and remembered my student-loan bill was due. I logged in on my work computer — I didn’t want to forget to make a payment.
Both windows were open and I looked at his expenses on one side and my student debt on the other. A number that has been so debilitating to me is so corporately small. It put in perspective how small my debt was.
The novel touches on political themes such as gender and wealth inequality. Did you set out intending to write something so political?
Definitely. A little more anger and frustration came out in the really early drafts. I wanted to address issues from a lighter, funnier standpoint, which is what the book ended up being: a socially conscious novel in chick-lit clothing.
Income inequality isn’t an issue that will be going away. How should young people fight back?
It’s a huge, complicated issue.
The most important thing for young people to know is that their voice matters. They are a huge voting block and there’s power in that. So stay informed and stay active and on top of your representatives. Do anything you can, because if you grow complacent, your voice gets drowned out by many other issues.
In the book, Tina is aware that despite agonizing over debt, she is better off than most. What role does privilege play in the novel?
If student-loan debt is your problem, you’re already ahead in the game. Student loans are a huge issue, but so many people don’t even have the chance to go to college. It’s not even an option for them.
What do you think of New York’s free public college tuition program that was recently announced?
I think college debt will still remain a problem, but it’s fantastic! It is truly awesome to live in a state like New York, where we are lucky in relation to liberal values.
Robert, though a billionaire boss, isn’t evil. Why?
It would be too easy if [Robert] was a straight-up, hateful villain. In real life, it’s rare that we encounter people who are like that — even the .01 percent. I don’t know any of these people personally, but I would venture to say that they are not all bad people. Still, with that level of wealth, they start to lose touch with how the rest of the world lives.
All of the women in the novel are assistants, though some have degrees that make them overqualified for that job. How does that relate to what unfolded in November?
I, like a lot of people, was devastated post-election. We keep hearing this word ‘intersectional’ — so women of all races, colors, sexual orientations, we all need to come together. A lot of white, educated women voted for [Donald Trump].
I do hope that the best thing that will come out of this is that women will join together and rise up and be fired up to join hands across all differences. I hope it will make us better.
Will ‘The Assistants’ play out on the big screen?
The movie bug bit me. We sold the movie rights and I am writing the screenplay right now with a producer named Miranda Bailey. She really believed in it and she’s got some great ideas of casting, so keep your ears peeled for that.
What’s next for you as an author?
I’m working on a second novel called “When Katie met Cassidy,” a romantic comedy about sexuality and gender. At heart, it’s about a young woman who gets dumped by her fiancé and falls in love with a woman for the first time. Like ‘The Assistants,’ it’s a book about social issues in the shell of a quick beach-read. We don’t have a pub date yet, but depending on how edits go, it could be out by the summer of 2018.
Photo Caption: “The Assistants”
*This story was originally published in the Long Island Advance, May 4, 2017.