New Explosive Novel Explores How Far Are Millennials Willing to Go to Make a Buck
Would you work as a human breast pump? How about a professional cuddler of strangers?
What is the weirdest job you’ve ever held? Can you top any of the jobs the characters of Magdalena Waz’s novel “Return on Investment” go through?
I highly doubt that, but let’s start from the beginning.
The story is set in Chicago, but, really, any American city would do the job just as well. In her debut novel, Magdalena Waz, a features editor at Bushwick Daily, assembles a cast of characters, all recent college graduates, who, not surprisingly, have to face the less than glamorous reality of starting their adult lives in a bad economy.
We have Ola, a Polish American, who is reduced to an immigrant cliché of herself—she cleans the houses of the wealthy. We have Michelle, a recent transplant from Indiana, who takes a mind-numbing data entry job at the same company like Mark, a political science graduate. David hopes to meet a rich woman, who will perhaps save him from his job of “baby-sitting” bachelorette parties, and having have to move back to Costa Rica.
And finally we have Laurie, our protagonist, who revolts against the mundane reality of the badly paid dead-end jobs of her peers, and armed with expressions like “business model,” “return on investment” and “niche market,” she carves out her own entrepreneurial venture. Soon, we get a sense, that Laurie is perhaps missing some important emotional component, the lack of which lets her venture deep into the dark, weird and perhaps dangerous, with an ease unknown to her peers.
Laurie advertises herself on Craigslist as a human breast pump in order “to free new moms from the machinery of lactation.” The job entails exactly what you fear to expect. Laurie shows up at her clients’ homes and using her mouth she sucks and spits their milk into artisanal-looking milk canisters. She, once again, is armed with fairly reasonably sounding explanations about why this is good for the mothers and their children, and her unlikely business “that didn’t need to exist in the first place” flourishes—until Laurie makes a mistake that costs her all her clients.
It is perhaps the masterful descriptions of the practical aspects of this strange occupation of Laurie’s that Waz excels the most at. I cringed when reading about Laurie’s boyfriend, the data clerk, David, who comments every night on the levels of her milk scent; or about Laurie brushing her teeth three times every night, yet being unsuccessful to remove an “organic matter” from the milk captured between her teeth. Waz takes her novel to the new absurd heights in these parts, that juxtaposed against the trying economy and the need to make a buck, distill a clear, uneasy feeling in the reader.
As the breast pumping business fails, the fearless Laurie, takes her entrepreneurial ambitions combined with her distaste for “normal” jobs even further, and creates a new business that involves cuddling strangers. This time Laurie enlists similarly desperate Michelle, Ola and David to help her, and on Craigslist advertises “warm bodies [that] seek the lonely and the tired for no strings attached cuddle.” (BTW cuddling as a profession is an actual thing.)
This cuddling venture is not about sex, it is about the mere human touch, but still, Laurie refuses to see how dangerous this job might get for her and her associates. Additionally, there is a relationship with Mark, that has been strained under the weight of her unusual business endeavors and cuddling might just be the last drop.
I personally wished for more background on Laurie, for more of a plunge into her corrupted soul, yet I still think that “Return on Investment” is an excellent novel that will deeply resonate with anyone who has graduated in the post-2008 economic meltdown mess. It is smart, dark and funny--perfect fall read for Bushwick bars and coffee shops.