Recruited is a booze-soaked literary salute to the dot com heyday of the 1990s.
A young woman almost loses herself in the splashy world of recruiting in Lauren E. Anderson’s novel Recruited.
Olivia is about to graduate from Dartmouth with no postcollege plans. A study abroad semester on Rodrigues, a small island in the Indian Ocean, opened her eyes to ecology and conservation, but conservation does not pay well, and Olivia has student loans to consider. On a whim, she attends an information session for Kava Tech, a start-up based in Texas. Intrigued by the presentation and the potential money she could make, Olivia agrees to interview with them.
Money becomes even more important when Olivia discovers a cache of seeds from Rodrigues’ endangered tree, the aureum, that need to be repatriated. Accepting a job as a recruiter for Kava Tech gives Olivia the opportunity to save toward that goal, with the added bonus of spending more time with mysterious Marion. But hitting recruiting goals and wining and dining college seniors isn’t all its cracked up to be, and Olivia must decide which is more important: her dignity or her job.
Olivia is an everyman character. She has very little experience with computers, but she is smart and capable. She starts with a very clear idea of what she needs to do in order to get where she needs to go. But she’s also naïve, and is so able to be seduced by Kava Tech’s money and Marion’s hot, older man vibe. Her story arc peaks when she realizes that she’s engaging in activities she never planned to engage in, and that the public perception of her position, a position held by a majority of the women at Kava Tech, is downright insulting. She questions her motives and her methods; the novel makes it clear that her time at Kava Tech, though tainted, was worthwhile for her personal growth.
The book is set in the late 1990s, though the dialogue is absent the slang of that era, and references to contemporary tech giants come only near the end. However, Olivia uses authentically vague language in her pitch to prospective employees—the same that was used with her. It is all about selling an idea, a possibility, and a dream.
Ably flashing the wealth for which 1990s start-up culture is known, the story mentions laptops for every employee, hundreds of thousands of dollars on company credit cards, exotic trips, and big-ticket giveaways. Risks are implicit, and are apparent in Kava Tech’s party culture, too: happy hours are mandatory, and someone has to pay for them. The lavish, open-bar party scene of company happy hours carries over to recruitment events, and the book is propelled by these parties and what happens at them. In between party scenes, office politics, and fade-to-black sex scenes, genuine friendship between Olivia and other members of her cohort keeps the story hurtling forward. And through it all, the book is clever at burying its lede.
A coming-of-age story with social commentary on the rampant misogyny of the tech world, Recruited is a booze-soaked literary salute to the dot com heyday of the 1990s.
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