Belle" by Maureen Sherry; Simon & Schuster (352
you’ve seen the film "The Big Short" and
noticed that it was all about the men who profited from
the financial crisis of 2007-10, you may have wondered
where all the Wall Street women were. Sure, there was
that Goldman Sachs saleswoman and a couple of others,
but most female roles fell into the category of exotic
dancer or somebody’s wife.
find the women of Wall Street here, in the diverting
"Opening Belle," which is told from the
perspective of women trying to make a living in a sexist
environment. Obstacles are constantly placed in their
path, distracting them from a housing bubble that’s
about to burst.
character Belle is a managing director of a financial
firm ripped from the "Animal House" playbook.
Obscene nicknames, childish pranks, lunchtime bordello
trips and demeaning sexual harassment are all in a day’s
Sherry’s comic novel unspools like a movie, a quality
apparently not lost on actress Reese Witherspoon.
According to promotional material for the book, the
"Legally Blonde" star optioned "Opening
Belle" "just days after the manuscript was
submitted to Hollywood." It seems a screenplay is
underway. I can just hear Cyndi Lauper’s version of
"Money Changes Everything" on the soundtrack.
world centers around a sprawling apartment on the West
Side, an annual bonus of millions of dollars, a husband,
three children and a demanding job that often requires
long hours. As if she weren’t busy enough, Belle
embarks on an emotional affair with her ex-fiancé,
Henry, when he becomes her biggest client. He says he
doesn’t cheat on his wife — he just needs this
attachment to Belle and to their shared past.
husband, Bruce, has become a stay-at-home father but
doesn’t seem proud of his choice. He spends lavishly
on himself. Back when they were dating, Bruce seemed so
down-to-earth compared to the manboys she works with.
But it turns out Bruce is motivated by such a sense of
entitlement that he considers work beneath him.
meets with a friend who provides perspective: They have
achieved success because they know how to be one of the
guys. She echoes a theme Belle encounters when she and
the other token women in her firm are invited to lunch
with the big boss. When Belle lays out some of the
complaints about how women are treated, no one else
chimes in. His response: Get over it. Adapt to the tribe
some of the firm’s women form a secret Glass Ceiling
Club, it fans Belle’s flame of idealism about ways to
make Wall Street a better place for women. Meanwhile,
she is blind to how she undercuts herself and to how she
keeps grabbing the short end of the stick and holding on
for dear life.
can’t or won’t set boundaries or delegate. One
night, everyone is asleep in the filthy apartment when
she comes home, and instead of going to sleep, she
spends most of the night cleaning. Belle cuts up fresh
fruit into little bags and tucks them in the
refrigerator because she is the classroom snack mom for
school the next day.
worked on Wall Street for 12 years and was a managing
director at Bear Stearns. She quit to pursue writing and
earned a master’s of fine arts degree. She has four
presumably, art imitates life to some degree in this
book, but it’s hard to believe many of the events are
part of anyone’s reality.
one of the cheesier passages, Henry and Belle notice a
stunning dress in a store window. It is beautiful,
something Belle could have worn before three
pregnancies, back when Henry dumped her. She returns
later to try the dress on. The dress is so tight that
she gets trapped in it. The saleswoman is deaf to her
cries for help, so Belle ends up calling Henry, who is
of course available to race to the dressing room and
rescue this damsel from a dress.
scene stands out among several that seem written for
Hollywood, possibly for fun, but they read like they’re
more for profit. Not that there’s anything wrong with
a woman making a living, of course.