At 36, Joan Dixon sees herself as a complete failure. In the year since she lost her Los Angeles newspaper job, she’s had to move home with her parents and has just blown her last chance to sell the big story she’s been reporting. In desperation, she takes a copywriting job at Bloom, a tech startup where a 24-year-old will be her boss. That’s the setup for Liza Palmer’s latest novel, The Nobodies, which satirizes the tech industry’s affectations—its endless free food and drink, ridiculously young workforce and bro-y CEOs who believe their own nonsense.
Joan’s reporter’s instincts lead her to suspect that something’s off with Bloom’s business model. Joan makes friends with her young co-workers, and before long they’ve formed an investigative team. As they begin to pursue leads, Joan wonders if she’s leading them down a disastrous path.
Joan is stubborn, angry, self-deprecating and funny. Humor is a strength of the novel, and Joan’s first-person narration allows for lots of introspection, although it sometimes comes at the expense of the story and the development of the novel’s other characters. Joan’s co-workers fall in line with her investigative plan quickly, none of them giving more than a slight pushback, even though they stand to lose jobs and health insurance.
As I read The Nobodies, I thought of the HBO show “Silicon Valley,” for its funny, bumbling characters, and then “Younger,” whose main character connects with her 20-something publishing co-workers, and finally, The Inventor: Out for Blood, the documentary about the fraudulent tech startup Theranos. Combining elements from all of these narratives, The Nobodies is a fast-paced, contemporary novel with a main character who’s determined to get the real story and maybe find herself along the way.