|Sarah Mlynowski’s latest Red Dress Ink novel portrays four teenagers – excuse me, twenty-somethings – struggling through their first year of a prestigious business school. I’m not sure what B-schools Mlynowski researched, but the one I attended had neither co-ed dorms nor sexual antics like the fictional one she portrays. Frankly, the only realistic aspect of the educational experience in the story is the heavy drinking. But if you don’t mind the inaccurate picture of grad school, you’ll find Monkey Business an enjoyable piece of Chick Lit fluff.
The first day of orientation at Connecticut University’s Leiser Weiss Business School finds Kimmy Nailer hung over and regretting her impulsive decision to sleep with new classmate Jamie Grossman. Kimmy had only applied to LWBS because her boyfriend Wayne wanted to go there. When she was accepted and he wasn’t, Wayne responded by sleeping with her best friend. A heartbroken Kimmy decided she might as well attend and look for a new boyfriend while she’s there. She doesn’t understand the first thing about business principles, but for now her bigger worry is how to get rid of Jamie, who doesn’t meet her tall, dark and handsome requirements.
An impulse of a different kind brought Jamie to LWBS, but now that the short, stocky Jewish guy has found the woman of his dreams, he’s going to stick around for a while. Jamie doesn’t take much seriously in life, but he’s sincere about the gorgeous, sexy Kimmy. Unfortunately, the object of his affection does not seem eager to repeat their one-night stand, and in fact she seems rather fixated on his handsome friend, Russ.
Graduating from a top business school has been Russ’ dream since he idolized Alex P. Keaton in the 1980s, and he’s left behind his loyal girlfriend in Toronto to attend LWBS. The once geeky “pizza face” has turned into a dreamboat, but when he is the object of unmistakable come-ons from sexpot Kimmy, what’s a guy to do? Russ is about to learn the disastrous results of burning more than one candle at both ends.
In contrast to the other three characters, there’s no partying or playing around for Layla Roth. The wealthy, sophisticated New Yorker has come to LWBS with the goal of acing all of her classes, participating in only the most impressive extracurricular activities, winning over all of her professors, and moving on to a fabulous job in mergers and acquisitions. Everything is just as perfect as she had planned, so why does she feel so hollow inside?
Monkey Business moves quickly through 400 pages as the four protagonists take turns narrating their stories in impressively distinct voices. There’s quite a bit of raunchy sex, a few too many descriptions of excreting various bodily fluids, and even a moderate amount of character growth. Kimmy, for example, starts out academically and personally insecure. She’s desperate to have a boyfriend (even if the one she wants is already taken), but by the end of the novel she finds her niche in business school and sheds her desperate dependence. She’s not very likeable at first, although she inspires a certain amount of pity, but by the novel’s climax she has earned the reader’s respect. The other three characters have their moments of epiphany, but their character development isn’t as dramatic. I give Mlynowski credit for seeing the potential in the uni-browed, pudgy Jamie and realizing that even short funny Jewish guys can sometimes be princes. Layla earns points for her no-nonsense attitude towards sexual self-satisfaction, and Russ – well, he’s a mess, but at least he has a cool Canadian accent, eh?
Frankly, I’m not sure I would hire any of these people to work in my firm (if I had one), because they all have a lot of growing up to do before they can be considered professionals. But I didn’t mind wasting some time with them as they took their first steps towards acting like adults.