Necessary People

This thriller (352 pages) was published in May of 2019 by Little, Brown. The book takes you to a cable TV newsroom. Melissa read Necessary People and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

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Necessary People

Anna Pitoniak

This unputdownable novel is a twisty workplace thriller set in KCN, a New York City cable news network. There’s a thoughtful examination of classism, ambition, and female competition tucked into this BFFs-to-frenemies tale — and it’s whoop-out-loud bananas in a very satisfying way.

The story swirls around two young upstarts: Stella and Violet. Opposites attract, and the two become fast friends at college. Stella is rich, blonde, and beautiful; she does as she pleases all the time. Her privilege and wealth have eliminated any need for thinking about consequences or other people. Empathy, shmempathy.

So obvs, Violet is hardworking and determined, an escapee from a background of poverty and abuse. She has her eyes on the prize: She will earn good grades, land a great job, and leave her crappy past behind.

Their friendship can be summarized this way: Stella makes messes, and Violet cleans them up.

By the time graduation rolls around, Violet has grown weary of this pattern. So she heads for the bright lights of Manhattan to begin her career at a cable news network while Stella flits around the world, party-girl style.

Violet flourishes! Her hard work and likability lead to promotions from intern to assistant and to producer. Her dreams are coming true — until Stella returns and decides that working at KCN looks like fun. Soon, she’s wrangled her way into a job, and the almost-sisters turn to rivals with gloriously messy, can’t-look-away results.

The contrast between Stella’s having and Violet’s striving is painfully sharp. In Stella’s world, Violet’s ambition is distasteful. She’s so clearly ‘other,’ like being overdressed at a dinner party when everyone else is casual in that worn-in-just-right way.

It doesn’t help that the newsroom is a pressure cooker of colleagues who are warm and supportive until they’re not. The ins and outs of how stories are assigned and produced are compelling; the way underlings pitch their stories and compete for air time is brutal. And just when you think you know where this story will go, there’s a headline-worthy plot twist.

Anna Pitoniak has written an escapist read that captures the spirit of a modern TV newsroom and features stressed-out people making entertainingly bad decisions. Melodramatic and suspenseful, it feels close enough to the truth of our 24-hour news cycle to also be gloriously uncomfortable.

The demands were obvious to us — we knew exactly what people liked to watch, and what they didn’t. The ratings bore that out, every single week. The audience liked clean takeaways. They liked black-and-white, heroes and villains. They liked the truth, but only kind of; they liked the truth packaged in a way to make them feel better about their own lives. Too much murkiness, and they are reminded of their own murk: their own mistakes, their own shortcomings, the times they, too, misbehaved and mistreated others. Those stories didn’t rate well. If you wanted people to watch, if you wanted to win the demo and get the blockbuster numbers that your bosses demanded, you needed a story with a good ending. — Anna Pitoniak

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