Carol MacLean, the "Beauty" in Frederick Dillen's new novel, has a very clear 'I want.' She is middle-aged, single, and works for Baxter Blume, a fund that buys companies, loads the extraneous divisions with debt, and shuts them down. Carol's job is to travel around the country shutting down entire companies and selling whatever can be salvaged. She hates that because what she wants to do is run her own company. Her New York bosses have promised that all she has to do is kill two more companies, and they'll give her her own. Her last job is to shut down a fish processing company on Elizabeth Island, just off the Massachusetts coast (which sounds suspiciously like Gloucester).
Will it surprise you to learn that the high finance snakes back at the New York fund renege on their promise to give her a company? Would it surprise you to learn that Carol—knocked to her knees by this news—begins to think she might be able to save the fish processing company and run it herself? Would it surprise you to learn that one of the key players in the rescue of the company is a widowed Elizabeth Island fisherman and that although Carol has been working in high finance for years, she's actually a child of a working class father from Detroit with a lot in common with a working-class fisherman? In other words, Beauty, is a fairy tale.
Nevertheless, Beauty is a lot of fun. Dillen is able to write about a complex and potentially boring subject without overloading his story in financial minutia. I suspect there are many women who will relish watching Carol fire the four senior fish company executives who have brought the firm to the brink. And just when it looks as if everything is going to work out the way it should (i.e., goodness and justice triumph), Dillen throws up another entirely believable hurdle to Carol's dream of love and management.
My only reservations have to do with the shifting point of view and Dillen's style (which is related to the POV issue). Dillen tells his story from several on-going points of view: Carol's, her mentor Baxter's, the fish company's HR executive, the fisherman with whom Carol becomes involved. Unfortunately, they all sound similar, which is not helped by the style. Here is a sample from a town meeting: "Easy got himself up quick, but so did the rest of the room. A working fish-town in its bones, all of them stood. Easy knew them all, except Carol, and Carol belonged here even though she was pretty. Everybody else—him, too, obviously—was a long way from pretty. The men were lumps or withering or broken in half, from jobs that ate your body. Most of them also didn't care so much about shaving. The drinkers, men and women both it was in their faces. The druggers, a few had come, the old ones, which you never expected at first but you weren't going to mistake them; they'd have come because they knew they had a connection in the crowd...."
Despite my reservations, Beauty is interesting if only because Dillen has created an adult woman with the kind of business challenges we do not often see dramatized in fiction.