“The Twins of Tribeca” by Rachel Pine

A debut novel from a former Miramax assistant breaks the standard celebrity-dish genre and offers a revealing look at the plight of today's working women.

Topics: Fiction, Books,

"The Twins of Tribeca" by Rachel Pine

A few years back, apple-cheeked chick lit mated with slutty celebrity tell-all and produced a batch of dishy romances like “The Devil Wears Prada” and “The Nanny Diaries.” They went like this: single girl tries to get her social, sexual and professional groove on while laboring for a rich and/or famous person whose real-life identity is very thinly veiled.

“The Twins of Tribeca” is part of the same litter. First-time novelist Rachel Pine was a publicity assistant at Miramax Films, the Oscar-gobbling company run by pugnacious brothers Bob and Harvey Weinstein that helped to popularize “independent film.” Pine’s novel centers on Karen Jacobs, a publicity assistant at Glorious Pictures, headed by Phil and Tony Waxman, “the notorious, larger-than-life twin brothers who run their company with … iron fists.” Why Pine even bothered to change the Weinsteins’ names is something of a mystery, especially since Miramax itself is publishing the book.

I was admittedly more eager than most to read “The Twins of Tribeca.” Having covered Miramax as a reporter for several years and worked at its magazine Talk before that, I was anxious to see how my old friends, nemeses and sources — including the Bros. Weinstein — fared.

But one of the things that’s good — really good — about “The Twins of Tribeca” is that it’s not really about the titular “Waxmans,” who waltz through as loud, scary but basically buffoonish mascots. Pine also manages to avoid other predictable elements of her genre; Karen has no swoony romance (only a creepy dalliance with a foot fetishist gossip-columnist) and no cosmo-quaffing pack of friends.

What Karen does is work. And work and work and work. It may not be sexy, but it’s a grimly observant take on single women’s lives. In an ideal world we’d have a great balance between job and love and sex and friends. But in the real world, we often just work. And work some more.

Of course for Karen, it’s not as bleak as it could be. There’s a reason that “The Twins of Tribeca” wasn’t written by, say, an actuarial assistant. Karen’s gig is punctuated by trips to the Oscars and visits from “Juliet Eastland,” a lithe Gwynethian actress so stunning that even Harvey, “the evil little ferret” of an office dog, lets her tickle his belly. There’s also dish about difficult stars who sound a lot like Prince, Robert De Niro, Ralph Fiennes and Natalie Portman.

But this is window dressing. At the heart of the book is its beautifully executed revelation that Glorious Pictures, famously headed by two burly guys, is actually an empire run by women. And Pine’s version of intra-office dynamics is infinitely more sensitive than other recent attempts to convey the pleasures and pains of a mostly female work hierarchy. There is one hideous caricature — a screamer who fires an intern who dares write her for career advice — but, hey, maybe she exists.

Most of Karen’s superiors have more refined, irritating eccentricities, like the woman who doesn’t trust her assistant with anything more than compiling a daily list of deliverable soups. Pine faithfully records the minutiae of the daily humiliations of her caste: When assigned to usher celebrity guests into an Oscar party, Karen is told: “Don’t move your hands when you greet people. They might think you’re trying to touch them.” After a spelling error, one assistant is made to write the name of famous director “Johnny Lucchese” 500 times. Karen arrives at the office at 7 so that her boss, Allegra, still in bed but pretending to be in a meeting, can have Page Six read aloud to her. “The column had a mysterious hold over [Allegra],” writes Pine. “She studied it with the intensity of a Talmudic scholar.”

The best part of “The Twins of Tribeca” is, in fact, the character of Allegra. In clumsier hands, she could be a harpy who either gets her karmic comeuppance or soars to heights that prove there is no justice. But Pine depicts her fictional tormentor with delicate distaste, as a strange, smart woman who happens to be a massive pain in the ass. Allegra dresses in a coat so big and totes so many scripts that she looks “as if she were wearing her duvet and carrying her night table.” She speaks in a constant, inaudible whisper. She’s maddeningly vague, and maintains steady fictions about her own life, like that she’s talking to Oprah all day when really she’s on with her decorator, or that she’s in Europe when really she’s hovering blocks from the Glorious offices pretending not to recognize her colleagues when they greet her.

Ultimately, what’s fresh about Pine’s novel is that despite the Machiavellian industry it chronicles, there are no villains here. Though they torture and frustrate, the baddie boss ladies at Glorious aren’t so different from the goodie peons.

Somewhat embarrassingly, the final scene between Karen and Allegra — a scene just as stilted and weird as the dynamic between the two women — made me cry a little. Here’s why: When one of them says, “I was trying to have some piece of a life that didn’t involve Phil and Tony and their movies … I just wanted to have ten minutes to myself — to try to have a relationship, or to talk to my mother, or deal with something other than this goddamn company,” it’s not the beleaguered assistant with whom we’ve been sympathizing for 371 pages.

Allegra is as nuanced and real a fictional boss as I’ve encountered in a while. You wouldn’t want to work for her. But, in her, you might see a little of yourself.

Read more of our reviews of this month’s best fiction

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>