Working Girl

Photo by Deborah Wald

Strawberry Saroyan. Cutthroat creative-writing students would die for her last name. But mining her grandfather’s reputation for literary depression is not something for Straws (people call her that, really). She started at the bottom of the literary ladder with a crap apartment in New York City and an annoying holdover roommate from her days as a Columbia student. And then Saroyan worked up the ladder of the New York publishing world. Her soon-to-be-released memoir, Girl Walks Into a Bar (Random House), is a primer for the media-world wannabe: how to get a job out of college; how to party with the rich and famous; how to get so good that you can reject amorous advances from editors; how to get so sick of yourself that you have to leave the city. How to return to your hometown, Los Angeles, and reinvent yourself — successfully.

Girl Walks Into a Bar is best when Saroyan writes about her relationship to work. She is iconic as a member of the first generation of women who can take for granted having a career. When she writes, “In my head the sound of a career woman is the faint echo of high heels,” she speaks for all the women who snagged high-paying jobs and, in a fit of excitement, headed straight to Bloomingdale’s. But she also captures inevitable disappointment with work life when her bank account starts to run dry: “Why do we all feel like we’re going to lose everything personally if we fail professionally?” The charm of her debut book is watching Saroyan muddle her way through her career.

Saroyan, 32, built her career editing in the magazine world, and sentence by sentence you can hear the editor-Saroyan managing the memoirist-Saroyan. Her voice sounds much like the first-person columns in Vogue or as-told-tos in Marie Claire. That even, professional tone is nice for a magazine article, but it feels somewhat flat at book length. The topic, also, might have been more suited to one of those glossy-magazine first-person essays: How I Survived My Career, or something like that.

But I expect there will be more books to come from Strawberry Saroyan, and I’ll be looking for them. She has enough life experience to keep a literary agent busy: Her parents did not have real jobs until she left for college, her two siblings were in rehab at young ages, and surely she must have something new to say about work life now that she is an up-and-coming writer living in Los Angeles.