by Joanne McNeil
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Pub Date 14 Nov 2023 | Archive Date 31 Dec 2023
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, MCD x FSG Originals
For years, Teresa has passed from one job to the next, settling into long stretches of time, struggling to build her career in any field or unstick herself from an endless cycle of labor. The dreaded move from one gig to another is starting to feel unbearable. When a recruiter connects her with a contract position at AllOver, it appears to check all her prerequisites for a “good” job. It’s a fintech corporation with progressive hiring policies and a social justice-minded mission statement. Their new service for premium members: a functional fleet of driverless cars. The future of transportation. As her new-hire orientation reveals, the distance between AllOver’s claims and its actions is wide, but the lure of financial stability and a flexible schedule is enough to keep Teresa driving forward.
Joanne McNeil, who often reports on how the human experience intersects with labor and technology brings blazing compassion and criticism to Wrong Way, examining the treacherous gaps between the working and middle classes wrought by the age of AI. Within these divides, McNeil turns the unsaid into the unignorable, and captures the existential perils imposed by a nonstop, full-service gig economy.
A Note From the Publisher
Available on NetGalley
This book won’t be for everyone but it really was the book for me. So often I read books by young MFA grads that glorify or objectify poverty in beautiful sentences and you can just tell they’ve not lived it. I think it helps that the author is a journalist who has intimate knowledge of these issues from talking to the people who have lived this life and covering the social impacts of technology and AI.
It’s very slow paced and not much happens in the story but it’s literary in its deep interiority and exploration of back story, which I appreciated. This is the kind of book that inspires me to write because the attention to craft is so good.
Teresa is stuck in a dead-end life where she takes a series of odd, underpaid jobs in the gig economy. She lands her best job yet for a fintech company that produces driverless cars - or at least, they claim to be driverless, but they are really piloted by a human driver in an extremely uncomfortable portal, like a drone. But it pays better than any of her other jobs and she finally has financial security.
The social commentary in this book was just wonderful. It really digs deep into the psyche and motivations of gig economy workers, AI and the future of labor. Plus the prose was beautiful and Teresa was a fascinating, complex character, if a bit maddening at times.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance review copy. I am leaving this review voluntarily.
Wrong Way is a novel I was fully unprepared for. Having read the synopsis, I expected the scathing criticism of wealth, capitalism and our crippling economy. What I did not expect was to connect so strongly with the protagonist, feeling her desolation and despair, how her life did not amount to what she expected. McNeil adeptly captured the farce of what many companies call social responsibility, and the reality of the middle class and lack of opportunities for upward mobility. While it is not a cheerful read, it is an important one.