Convinced you're having a quarter-life crisis? Think maybe a soul-searching trip might help?
Aline Hallaby, a nice, obedient Arab girl, has it all---a budding career at one of Montreal's most prestigious accounting firms, a loving family, and a boyfriend of three years who has finally proposed. To top it all off, she's about to fly to Cancún with her accounting classmates to celebrate passing the Uniform Final Examination. There's just one tiny problem: Ali has failed the exam. She hasn't told a soul. Not her parents. Not her boyfriend. And definitely not her boss, who will boot Ali out the door as soon as she finds out.
So rather than suffer through seven days in Cancún with her drunken-yet-successful classmates, Ali grabs her best friends, Sophie and Jasmin, and flees to the farthest place her airfare cancellation insurance will carry her: the resort town of Varadero Beach, Cuba. . . .
The sea, sand, and sun, not to mention the attentions of a certain Cuban dive instructor, soon have Ali feeling wonderfully careless and increasingly reckless. Caught up in a whirlwind of rum-soaked nights and moonlit Havana strolls, this good Muslim girl gets her very first taste of what it would be like to be bad, really bad. But will what happens in Cuba stay in Cuba? Or is Ali finally ready to break out of the good-girl mold and grow into the woman she was meant to be?
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.89(d)|
About the Author
Born in Lebanon, Nadine Dajani lives in Montreal, where she wrote (and passed) her Management Accounting exams. She lived in Grand Cayman for five years, where she enjoyed island-hopping to nearby Cuba whenever the travel bug bit. Fashionably Late is her first novel.
Read an Excerpt
By Nadine Dajani
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2007 Nadine Dajani
All rights reserved.
You know you have a shitty job when your clients would rather slit their own throats with a spoon than return your phone calls.
Which is why today, a crisp early-autumn Friday, I decide it's time for something a little more drastic. Like a coup. One that's going to see me bouncing into the office come Monday morning on the wings of victory, having caught the elusive Ms. Mercier off guard. Before anybody else has.
You'll have to forgive me if I have a tendency to make my life sound more interesting than it is. Accountants will do that. Lawyers get Ally McBeal, L.A. Law, and four different versions of Law & Order. Doctors get Grey's Anatomy. What do we get? Exactly. We're one rung above actuaries on the hopelessly-uninteresting-yet-well-paying-professions ladder, and maybe one down from engineers.
Today also happens to be the day of my cousin Ranya's wedding to self-made import/export mogul Dodi El Hoffi.
Today, in other words, is huge.
I duck out of the office at four, a garment bag with my black tulle Behnaz Sarafpour tea dress draped over my arm, strappy Louboutin slingbacks tucked in a corner of my boxy audit bag, and head straight for the client's main office on Sherbrooke and Saint-Marc. Unannounced.
"Ms. Mercier, please." I smile politely at the pretty blonde behind the sleek chrome-accented desk.
"Who, may I ask, is here to see her?"
"Aline Hallaby." I push back my shoulders and meet her stare. "From Ernsworth and Youngston Chartered Accountants." I wait for the intimidation effect to take hold.
She's one of those button-nosed French girls the Boston college boys like to pick up at the Crescent Street bars when they come up here for a weekend of binge drinking. Her voice is dripping with that brand of New York — meets — Paris snooty you only get in Montreal, specifically from the bone-thin patrons of the shops running down Saint-Laurent Street. You know which shops I'm talking about. Too cool for, you know, a name, they carry their teeny tops and flimsy dresses in two sizes: small and smaller.
"Is Madame Mercier expecting you?" From her icicle-dripping tone, you'd think Mercier is actually a code name for Céline Dion, passing incognito through town on her way to her mansion in Sainte-Rose.
Ms. Mercier is just the assistant controller at Fortex Inc., a small paper-products manufacturer that also happens to be an infuriatingly demanding client of ours.
"Yes, of course she is."
Blondie doesn't look convinced. She picks up the phone and dials. "I'm sorry, she's not at her desk at the moment," she says after a short pause, the receiver lodged between her shoulder and her ear.
"I'll just sit over here then." I match her cool stare, professionally tweezed eyebrow for professionally tweezed eyebrow.
I lower myself into one of the deep green leather armchairs facing the gargantuan desk and pull the latest copy of InStyle from my audit bag. And wait.
Everybody hates auditors. It's common knowledge. We are to the business community what termites are to antique wood furniture. People vaguely appreciate that even the smallest, slimiest, most apparently useless insect is infused with some higher bioecological purpose.
Auditors, not so much.
But, like the lone remora that keeps the aquarium clean by sucking in the muck and waste the rest of the fish leave behind, we auditors do in fact perform an essential service to society, even if the recruitment brochures didn't quite put it that way.
So why would an educated young woman with an appetite for success and a closet full of fabulous shoes be sitting here taking attitude from a glorified coffee girl in a suit that probably cost half of said coffee girl's monthly income, instead of doing something that actually matters? To anyone besides the profit-sharing board at Ernsworth and her mother, that is?
Because those Big Four firms really know how to reel you in, that's why. They're the ones with the coolest booths at Career Day and always give away the best free stuff, like gym bags and chrome coffee mugs emblazoned with their logos, while everyone else is handing out cheap pens. They totally destroy the retail banks and the marketing firms with their professional, glossy brochures plastered with happy people — lots of women and minorities, of course — pointing to laptop screens and smiling like they're looking at the latest dirty joke circulating around the office e-mail instead of a graph comparing different depreciation policies like we're meant to think.
The accounting firms also throw the best on-campus recruitment parties ever, never running short of fine wines, creamy cheeses, and hot young business-school grads just like you rattling on about how great life is on the other side. And if you scored an interview with one of them, then you were really in for a treat. Expensive dinners and private boxes at the Bell Center for anything from rock concerts to Canadiens games, depending on the season, courtesy of the partners who squeeze time out of their overbooked schedules to come out and tell you why their firm is the one to work for. And the cocoa dusting on the chocolate soufflé is that even after all this splurging, they still manage to pay the highest starting salaries of all the recruiting companies in any industry.
Unfortunately, the luster of my star status, along with that of every other new hire, faded the very first day I started on the job. That was also the day I heard for the first time the other term industry insiders use to refer to my firm: the Sweatshop.
And they weren't kidding.
Internal controls testing, minutes checking, invoice testing, cash testing ... It's enough to make you go cross-eyed. Ticking and bopping, they call it. None of us juniors can believe we actually need to go to university and then pass one of the hardest exams ever devised by man to work here. The firm just sends us out to companies so we can harass them with a billion annoying questions about their business. All so we can give the investing public a financial bill of health. Yup, they're clean. Next. Not that our services were particularly helpful to the poor schleps who'd invested in Enron, mind you.
No wonder my clients can't stand the sight of me.
But hey, if glowing career prospects have earned me a small wedge of freedom undreamed of by all my tradition-conscious cousins — overeducated, meticulously groomed twentysomethings still waiting for a man to come along and validate their sheltered lives — then who am I to argue?
I sigh and flip the cover page of my magazine just as Ms. Mercier herself materializes from behind the receptionist's desk, clutching a stack of envelopes against her chest.
"Noëlle, these were supposed to be sorted this mor — Oh ... Miss Hallaby. I didn't realize you were here." She throws the secretary a not-so-subtle sideways glare.
Noëlle shrugs. "She insisted on waiting," she says, and turns to the mound of envelopes in front of her, disgusted that she actually has to, you know, work.
I quickly push the magazine back into my briefcase and stand up, smoothing the creases in my tweed pencil skirt. I'd picked it out on purpose this morning, knowing I was coming here. It's the most demure-looking thing in my entire wardrobe.
"I left a message letting you know I'd be coming today," I lie. "For the invoice testing. I was also hoping you'd have those financials Manny has been requesting ready."
I'm betting my last loonie she'll claim she never got the message anyway. That, or she'll try to pull the "new systems implementation" excuse on me.
"As I'm sure you know, Miss Hallaby, we've been very busy here these past few weeks. We're in the middle of a new systems implementation and —"
What did I tell you?
"I appreciate that," I interrupt as nicely but firmly as possible, "I really do. But this can't wait."
Ms. Mercier eyes me contemptuously, as if through a pair of headmistress glasses slowly sliding off the tip of her nose. Except she's not wearing any glasses.
"I suppose you're already here. ..." Her voice trails off, disappearing behind a heavy metal door beside the reception area.
I jog to catchup.
An hour later, I emerge from the stout glass building, a thick stack of photocopies stuffed into my audit bag, and waddle-jog toward the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, three blocks down the street. It's all I can manage in my herringbone stilettos and three different bags hanging off various appendages. I check my watch. Five thirty. I'm cutting it close, but I don't care. Nothing is going to dampen my high spirits. Monday morning I get to tell Manny how I got the financials for him. Me. The ones he's been after for weeks. Not five-different-degrees-holding Derek, not senior-auditor-in-charge André, not even unbutton-my-shirt-some-more-and-see-where-it-gets-me Véronique. Me. And in the upwardly mobile world of audit, you never know where these kinds of small victories may lead.CHAPTER 2
I stumble into the hotel at 6:25, fifty-five minutes after the reception was scheduled to start. Most people would consider this late. Maybe even rude.
Not my people. When the Lebanese invite you to something, anything, and tell you to show up at six, they're not realistically expecting to see you standing at their doorstep any time before seven thirty. Seven if they know you're one of those annoying "punctual" types. By those standards, my tardiness would hardly register as fashionably late. I'm downright early.
Seventeen minutes after that, I emerge from the white marbled ladies' room just off the main lobby, makeup refreshed, wavy blond-highlighted hair — prone to the five o'clock frizzles — wound back into an elegant chignon and smoothed down with Ouidad conditioning cream — the only stuff that actually works in my kind of coarse curls. I am the picture of calm, put-together serenity, about to set a well-heeled foot into the mad circus that is a Big Fat Lebanese Wedding.
A Lebanese wedding is pompous affair, even for something as innately pompous as a wedding. For one thing, the actual reception is just the last installment of a trilogy of celebratory events, beginning with an engagement party that, if the bride-to-be were dressed in white, might be mistaken for the actual wedding itself. It's usually only after this extravagant affair that the couple can go on proper, unchaperoned dates. The trade-off is that if the interested parties should, at this stage of the process, come to the realization that they're better off on opposite sides of far-flung continents than together in eternal wedded bliss, they can call the whole thing off with relatively little consequence to their honor or that of their families.
Should they navigate this step successfully, they move on to the next round: the actual marriage ceremony itself. This is a much more sober affair, involving a turbaned sheik wearing long layered robes and a deep, serious frown. It's the part where the tearful father gets to give his daughter away and accept the symbolic silver coin the groom humbly offers in lieu of a dowry for taking the girl away from her family. It's where contracts are drawn up and licenses are signed.
You'd think that at this point the groom would be free to rip off his bow tie, roll up his sleeves, and fling his virginal bride over his shoulder and into the nearest Motel 6.
You'd be wrong.
There's still the reception to go through. And it's traditionally a full two weeks to a month after the ceremony.
My mother, the only person who could possibly have noticed this, seeing as the half of the six-hundred-plus guests that made it on time are busy perusing the lavish predinner buffet against a backdrop of soft elevator music and glinting crystal chandeliers.
"Honey, you look beautiful." My dad leans over and pulls me into a warm hug. He smells faintly of ink and chemicals under the new suit and the Paco Rabanne cologne my mother's made him wear.
It used to depress me, that smell. It reminded me of the dingy basement textile-printing workshop he toiled in until all hours of the night with the handful of people who worked for him, none of them speaking a word of English or French. My father would have made a great professor, I think. The cliché could have been modeled after him: mild-mannered, brilliant, and hopelessly absentminded. It would've looked a lot better to my friends, whose dads were VPs of big companies, lawyers, engineers. But first-generation immigrants don't work as professors, even if they come with the best credentials and highest accolades from the Old Country. They don't work as VPs or lawyers or engineers either. They leave that to their kids while they themselves become slaves to their tiny convenience stores, newsstands, or fast food franchises. My dad's lucky, though. He really does love his work. It's his tiny kingdom, a place where the tan shade of his skin and his gruff accent earn him respect instead of scorn or, worse, pity. He's even managed to grow it enough that Sara and Sami, my sister and brother, get to see a little more of him now than I did growing up.
"Brian got here a whole hour ago. How could you be so insensitive to the poor boy?" my mother says in Arabic.
She's talking about my boyfriend, not that she'd ever come out and use that dirty word. To everyone in the Lebanese community he's my friend with a meaningful nod and a barely perceptible fluttering of the nostrils, a warning to anyone who might think to question my major breach of decency and good Lebanese manners out loud.
"I was at work, Ma. I had to get some really important documents from a client. Crucial, actually. The whole team was counting on me." There's that tendency to spice up my bland job description again. You were warned.
My mother's eyes soften. I said the magic word: work. She loves the idea of my job so much, I wonder sometimes if maybe she should be doing it. With that kind of enthusiasm, she'd go places.
"Where is he?" I ask.
She opens her mouth to tell me, but before she can, we hear commotion coming from the side of the grand staircase.
"Look! Here she comes!" someone shouts above the low rumble of tinkling glasses and muted murmurs. A hush settles over the giant mass of dark suits and gold lamé outfits, buckling under the current of tingling excitement running through the foyer. All eyes in the room turn to the four turbaned drummers at the top of the grand staircase, standing at attention in their traditional white pantaloons and cropped vests as though before a military commander.
An eardrum-shattering ululation pierces the heavy silence, courtesy of the mother of the bride, my aunt Maryam. The first band member, the one with the bright red sash and gleaming black mustache, gives the signal. A quick, snappy shake of his tambourine.
The crowd explodes. So does the music.
The wedding reception has officially begun.
Tum ta ta tum tum, ta ta tum.
They cheer, they clap, they wail. Some of the braver women even try to mimic my aunt's expert ululation and end up sounding like land mammals in the last throes of agony. But it doesn't matter. We're all getting swept away in the living, breathing spectacle in front of us. In the ensuing hoopla, I lose sight of my parents, and still have no idea where Brian is. I start inching my way toward the staircase, craning my neck to get a better view. I wedge one foot between two dark trouser pants but stumble back when I feel the crushing weight of a very large person on my back.
"Insha' allah, you will be next!" Auntie Selma — not so much my actual aunt by blood or marriage, but by virtue of being a friend of my mother's — is definitely a wailer. Overcome with emotion, she'd lunged for the nearest unwitting girl of marriageable age, who happened to be me, and is leaning the whole of her corpulent frame on my shoulder, alternating between sobbing hysterically and blowing her nose in a crumpled up old Kleenex.
Next. Me. SIGNS POINT TO BLEAK, bleats my mental Magic 8 Ball. Especially since I come from a somewhat-lapsed-yet-fairly-traditional Muslim family and Brian is still holding out hope that we'll get to live together like most sensible North Americans do before we hop the late train to Marriage Land.
Excerpted from Fashionably Late by Nadine Dajani. Copyright © 2007 Nadine Dajani. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
On the outside, Aline Hallaby has everything going for her: a great boyfriend who finally proposed, a job at one of Montreal¿s Big Four accounting firms, a class trip to Cancun to celebrate passing the UFE (a professional certification exam for accountants). In reality, Aline¿s not ready to get married, she hates her job, and it turns out that she¿s the only one in her class who failed the exam. What¿s a girl to do? If that girl is Aline, she cancels Cancun and uses the insurance to spend a week in Cuba with her best friends instead...where all hell breaks loose.This was a really fun, light read. Aline was a very likeable and relatable narrator. She is a Lebanese-Canadian who, in some ways, is still struggling to reconcile her Canadian surroundings with her immigrant family traditions and that motivates a lot of her struggles and her choices. I liked that angle of the story. The parts set in Cuba were my favourites, the book felt like a mini-vacation. Havana is described in such a beautiful way, the author¿s own love for the city was very evident. It left me longing for a trip of my own. As is typical of chick lit type novels, this one does get repetitive at times and some of the female characters do get whiny. You do have to suspend some amount of disbelief. Overall, though, these criticisms weren¿t enough to take away from the positives for me, so I¿d still recommend it.