From the author of The Balance Project comes a dual-timeline narrative featuring a 1949 Miss Subways contestant and a modern-day advertising executive whose careers and lives intersect.
"Schnall has written a book that is smart and timely...Feels perfect for fans of Beatriz Williams and Liza Klaussmann." Taylor Jenkins Reid, acclaimed author of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
"A fast-paced, clever novel filled with romantic possibilities, high-stakes decisions, and harsh realities. Perfect for fans of Fiona Davis’s The Dollhouse, this engrossing tale highlights the role that ambition, sexism, and true love will forever play in women’s lives." Amy Poeppel, author of Small Admissions
In 1949, dutiful and ambitious Charlotte's dream of a career in advertising is shattered when her father demands she help out with the family business. Meanwhile, Charlotte is swept into the glamorous world of the Miss Subways beauty contest, which promises irresistible opportunities with its Park Avenue luster and local fame status. But when her new friendthe intriguing and gorgeous fellow-participant Rosedoes something unforgivable, Charlotte must make a heart-wrenching decision that will change the lives of those around her forever.
Nearly 70 years later, outspoken advertising executive Olivia is pitching the NYC subways account in a last ditch effort to save her job at an advertising agency. When the charismatic boss she’s secretly in love with pits her against her misogynistic nemesis, Olivia’s urgent search for the winning strategy leads her to the historic Miss Subways campaign. As the pitch date closes in on her, Olivia finds herself dealing with a broken heart, an unlikely new love interest, and an unexpected personal connection to Miss Subways that could save her joband her future.
The Subway Girls is the charming story of two strong women, a generation apart, who find themselves up against the same eternal struggle to find an impossible balance between love, happiness, and ambition.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Susie Orman Schnall grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. Her writing has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Huffington Post, POPSUGAR, Writer’s Digest, andGlamour. She is also the author of the award-winning novels On Grace and The Balance Project. Susie has spoken extensively on work-life balance and is the founder of The Balance Project interview series. She lives in Purchase, NY, with her husband and their three sons.
Read an Excerpt
CHARLOTTE THURSDAY, MARCH 3, 1949
After extensive research and considerable internal deliberation, Charlotte had submitted employment applications to five advertising agencies, their prestigious footings in Madison Avenue's most glimmering and stalwart buildings having nothing to do with her choices. Four rejected her expeditiously. The deliberately worded and carefully typed missives were diplomatic: the standard We are unable to offer you employment at this time. We wish you well in your continued pursuits sort of baloney.
Charlotte was convinced, however, that the true reason for the rejections was her advanced age. That the hiring executives took one look at her, with her impressive-but-unnecessary-for-a-typist education from Hunter College and her twenty-one-year-old vestal womb on the verge of decay, and assumed they were better off with girls fresh out of high school. Charlotte, they had most wrongly assumed, in her eyes at least, was one stockinged step away from the maternity ward, which would leave them with a typist seat gone cold and the terribly inconvenient need to recruit a new girl mid-season.
But as Charlotte and JoJo made their way out of Professor Finley's econ class, the March air stinging their exposed skin, Charlotte hoped that the news from advertising agency number five would be imminent. And positive. "It should be today, JoJo. I don't know how much longer I can hold it together if it doesn't come today," she said, shielding herself from the cold wind with her woolen scarf and fierce ambition as they walked toward their favorite coffee shop, a well-lit number on the corner of Seventy-First and Lex.
"I don't know if I can eat a thing," Charlotte continued once they had sat down. "I feel like that Hawaiian tsunami from a few years ago is gaining momentum in my stomach."
"She'll have a tea, and I'll have an egg salad on white, please," JoJo told the waitress.
"That letter better be bursting with good news. Another rejection and I'm heading straight to the high point of the Brooklyn Bridge."
"Charlotte!" JoJo scolded. "Don't talk like that. You're gonna get the job. And if you don't, there are better options than a swan dive."
"J. Walter Thompson is not the only advertising agency in all of Manhattan, you know."
"Easy for you to say. You have a job, Miss Copywriter at McCann Erickson," Charlotte said, taking a sip of her tea.
"I realize how important this is to you. And I know things aren't great at home. It's as if every day you're still living in Bay Ridge is like another ragged breath into a balloon. And you're on the verge of combusting."
"Ain't that the truth? And I don't know whether to laugh or cry."
"Laugh, Charlotte. It's good for digestion."
Charlotte gave JoJo one of her what-are-you-talking-about-JoJo looks and then laughed. How lucky she was to have a best friend like JoJo. A girl who relied on truth as much as humor, realizing that the former was essential and the latter was what made life bearable. A far cry from most of the other girls in their class, who relied more on flattery and gossip, neither of which was essential nor made life bearable, and resulted in the type of girl Charlotte and JoJo had neither time nor patience for.
* * *
"Lookin' like spring might finally be on 'er way," the optimistic-as-eggs postman said as he and Charlotte both approached the front walk to her house.
"I sure hope so," Charlotte said politely, smiling and accepting the small pile of mail. Waiting for the afternoon post had punctuated Charlotte's days the last couple of weeks. Anticipation. Disappointment. Anticipation. Disappointment.
Flipping fervently through the envelopes, Charlotte spotted a J. Walter Thompson return address. Anticipation? Check. Disappointment. She hoped not. Charlotte's stomach dropped. An elevator with a broken cable.
J. Walter Thompson, the most prestigious agency in Manhattan, had been Charlotte's first choice all along. It was the perfect place for Charlotte to begin her dream career in advertising, despite the distressing fact that the decade insisted upon that career, for young ladies at least, be confined to the typing pool. But Charlotte was used to feeling confined, and preferred the metal- desk-and-Smith-Corona sort of confinement to the sort she was presently enduring amid the silence and the sadness that was her parents' home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. So while the other firms' rejections were disappointing, they weren't the worst outcome. The worst outcome would be a rejection from JWT. Charlotte didn't have a backup plan.
Ignoring the cold, Charlotte sat on her stoop and examined the envelope. Miss Charlotte Friedman. Clear black type. The shipshape handiwork of an earnest typing pool girl.
She would have preferred to die — JoJo enthusiastically claiming the cemetery plot immediately to her right — than be like most of the Bay Ridge girls, who wanted to get married and have babies straightaway. A girl who settled for being a typist or a teacher temporarily, if at all, while waiting for Mr. Right to sweep her off her loafers, bring her home to his mother for a thorough once-over (Nice teeth, she'd say), and then straight to a tidy railroad apartment in the boroughs where she could carry on with the housekeeping, the cooking, the mothering, the drudgery of it all.
Girls today had choices. Charlotte had choices. She would get a college degree. She would be a professional. Together, she and JoJo were going to make names for themselves. And one day, and this they discussed only on nights when Coca-Cola wasn't the only dark liquid in the tumblers, they'd open their own agency. It was all decided. Charlotte could barely contain her excitement that her life was truly about to start. And that soon she'd be able to afford an apartment in Manhattan with a couple of the other girls. A life worth living, indeed.
She took one last look at the envelope and ripped it open. Her heart raced as she unfolded the single page and read its contents in haste. Once she got past the "We are unable to offer you ..." Charlotte lowered her head to her knees and cried. There was so much anticipation and emotion in every tear dropping onto the cracked concrete.
She had spent hours fantasizing about what it would be like to ride the elevator with purpose each morning; the way she'd spread her hands across the desk, absorbing the firmness and stability of the job; the skirts and blouses she'd hang according to outfit; and the journal she'd keep to ensure she didn't repeat an ensemble within a given week. So much time fantasizing about learning everything she could about advertising by reading the memos she would be asked to type, by listening extra carefully during the meetings for which she'd record notes, by lifting trade magazines from reception on her way out the door on Fridays. Those images flickered out like lightbulbs that had died emitting too much brightness.
Charlotte had anticipated that when she got her first job, she'd feel desired in a way no mother or lover ever could make her feel. She had little to no experience feeling desired by either a mother or a lover, so the disappointment in having to wait even longer felt almost violent. An assault against everything she had longed for. A barricade blocking her emergence from childhood to adulthood. The sense of relief that Charlotte had hoped to feel as a result of opening the letter was as long overdue as a forgotten library book wedged behind the sofa.
* * *
"That was the option. There are no other options, JoJo," Charlotte whispered into the phone so her mother wouldn't hear. She was crammed into the hall closet, smoking, the phone cord threaded under the door.
"I don't even know what to say."
"I know what my parents would say. You're too ambitious, Charlotte. Why don't you just marry Sam and settle down, Charlotte? Maybe they're right."
"Is that what you want?"
"I didn't think so. I thought you were done worrying about what you think you're supposed to do."
"I thought I was too."
"So what's your plan?"
"Brave Charlotte would start an entirely new job search and apply to more agencies. There has to be an empty typewriter somewhere on Madison Avenue."
"That's my girl. J. Walter Thompson doesn't know what they're missing."
"Hmmm. That's a great idea, JoJo. Thanks."
"What —" JoJo started. But Charlotte had already hung up.
Charlotte stubbed out her cigarette into the juice glass she'd brought into the closet. She knew her mother could smell the smoke, but Mrs. Friedman accepted the inevitability of Charlotte smoking as long as Charlotte didn't smoke directly in front of her. She had smoked herself for years before — well, before her hands had started trembling so terribly from grief that she once dropped the cigarette onto the rug and almost caused a fire. Since then she hadn't smoked, but Charlotte found it gave her own hands something to do. And that was helpful.
Luckily, Charlotte had her satchel in the closet and dialed the number on the JWT rejection letter. What the heck? she thought. Though not typically in her nature to be so forward — with boys, her parents, hemlines — Charlotte felt she had nothing to lose, everything to gain, and an obligation to her future self to give it a shot.
"Mr. Hertford, hello. This is Charlotte Friedman. I was an applicant for the typing pool?" she explained once the switchboard operator connected her to the man who had both interviewed her and broken her heart.
"Of course, Miss Friedman. What can I do for you, dear?"
"Mr. Hertford, I received your letter of rejection, and I wanted to convey my disappointment. I felt I was extremely qualified for the job, and working at J. Walter Thompson was far and away my first choice. Sir, I'm calling to ask if there's any chance you would reconsider." Charlotte took a deep breath.
"Well, well, Miss Friedman. It's not every day I have a girl calling like this. I must say I admire you for being a go-getter. But unfortunately we don't have additional opportunities available at this time."
"How about as a receptionist? I'm quite adept at the telephone, Mr. Hertford."
"I'm sure you are, dear. But we're fully staffed up front and on the switchboard, as well."
Charlotte was quiet.
"I promise to keep you in mind should anything change."
"Please do, Mr. Hertford. I wouldn't let you down. I absolutely promise."
"I'm sure you wouldn't, dear. Good day."
Charlotte slowly returned the handset to the receiver. She was proud of herself for making the call, but disappointed in its outcome. Perhaps this was one of those signs she had heard people talking about. Some universal force wagging a stumpy finger in her face and saying, You didn't get this job because you're not supposed to be working, you young, impressionable girl. Who do you think you are, anyway? You've completed almost four years of college. We gave you that. Now get your wits about you, child, and do what you're supposed to do. Reproduce!
After shutting the closet door behind her and replacing the telephone on the hall table, Charlotte walked to the kitchen to rinse out the juice glass. Her mother was working a crossword puzzle in pen and sitting at the small kitchen table, which was covered with Charlotte's grandmother's well-worn floral cloth.
Charlotte often caught her mother staring out the window, her lips moving but no sound coming out, something she'd been doing ever since they'd received the dreadful telegram that told them that Charlotte's brother, Harry, wouldn't be returning home from the war. Harry, in Charlotte's opinion, had been the only good thing about their family.
"Would you like some tea, Ma?" Charlotte asked.
"Just had some, but thanks."
Charlotte sat down and looked out the window.
"There's mail for you, Charlotte," Mrs. Friedman said, not looking up from the puzzle.
"There is? Where?" Charlotte, surprised she had missed it when she was looking through the mail pile earlier, immediately thought there must have been another agency she applied to that she hadn't heard from yet. Or maybe, J. Walter Thompson had sent her the rejection in error and this was the actual letter offering her a position and Mr. Hertford had simply forgotten. In the couple of seconds it took her to get from the kitchen to the hall table where her mother had left the envelope, Charlotte had considered the entire spectrum of possibilities. How wrong she was.
The return address bore no name, and the number on Park Avenue didn't provide a clue. Charlotte, certain it was a job offer, ripped the envelope open, pulled out the piece of heavy-stock cream paper, and read its contents. As shocked as a kite in a thunderstorm, Charlotte had to read the letter twice.CHAPTER 2
OLIVIA THURSDAY, MARCH 1, 2018
"Did they call yet?" Thomas asked, rushing into the conference room, an extra-large coffee in one hand, a scrunched Starbucks bag in the other.
"You have a hair out of place, Thomas," Olivia said, smirking.
"Not yet," Matt said from his perch at the head of the large table. "They said nine o'clock." He glanced at his watch — he had chosen his great-grandfather's gold Rolex today, Olivia noticed — and then looked from Olivia to Thomas.
"They must just be tied up with pathetic consolation calls to the losers," Thomas said, stuffing an English muffin sandwich in his mouth.
"Classy," Olivia said, and gave Thomas a look.
"Come on, you two. Not now," Matt said.
"I didn't say a word," Thomas protested, his mouth a cavern of mangled egg.
"I heard from a friend at Y&R last night that Boss & Bates dropped out," Olivia said, looking at Matt.
"Really, why?" Thomas asked.
"Apparently, they weren't happy with their final presentation yesterday, so they withdrew rather than face an inevitable rejection. I guess they thought it would make them look better on the street," Olivia said.
"I guess they thought wrong, since it only makes them look like bigger losers," Thomas said, laughing and staring at Matt.
Matt didn't look up. He was typing into his phone.
The conference room phone rang with the internal tone. Matt grabbed it.
"Matt," he said into the receiver.
"Put it on speaker," Thomas said in a loud whisper.
"Great, thanks, Layne. Please put him through." Matt looked up at Olivia and Thomas and gave them a thumbs-up. "It's him."
"Speaker, Matt," Thomas said.
"Steve, good morning! It's Matt Osborne," Matt said, suddenly all smiles and bellowing voice.
"Speaker," Thomas hissed.
"Shut up," Olivia whispered to Thomas.
They both looked at Matt. He was still smiling.
"Thank you. We put our best into the concept and the storyboards. I'm really happy to hear you liked it," Matt said. He looked up quickly and smiled at Olivia and Thomas.
Olivia's stomach was in knots and had been since they'd gotten the invitation from Nike to pitch their new energy bar business. She had led the pitch and couldn't have been happier with their strategic direction and creative. The presentation seemed to have gone perfectly. "Seemed" being the operative word.
"I see," Matt said, and Olivia snapped out of her worry to look at him. His voice had changed. Olivia knew that voice too well, the you-liked-our-pitch-but-you're-not-going-to-award-us-the-business voice. "Can you tell me what it was that gave you reservations?" Matt was drawing circles with his pen on the pad in front of him, his mouth in a half smile. That mouth.
"Damn it!" Thomas shouted. "I knew it."
Matt looked up, gave Thomas an angry look, and put out his right hand in a calm-the-fuck-down gesture.
"I see. Well, thank you for your time, Steve, and for the opportunity to pitch the business. If things don't work out with JWT, give us a call. I know we'd be able to make you happy."
Matt placed the handset down and put his face in his hands.
"Shit! We needed that business," Thomas said, banging his fist on the table.
Matt looked up at Thomas and didn't say a word. Then Matt gave Olivia a sympathetic look. Or was that a smile? She'd never been able to read his expressions accurately when he was angry.
"Let's meet back here in an hour. Be prepared to discuss all of your accounts and billings down to the dime. We need to figure out our next steps," Matt said. He stood up and left the conference room, letting the door slam behind him.
"Jesus, Olivia, I told you to go with the first creative Pablo came up with."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Subway Girls"
Copyright © 2018 Susie Orman Schnall.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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