Picks and Pans Review: Nine Lives

updated 09/05/1994 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/05/1994 01:00AM

by Lynn Snowden

Lynn Snowden must have had fun. Let others become slaves to the workaday world; she became its master, taking on nine jobs—by choice—in the course of a year. Her adventures prove her adept at showing up, catlike, in wildly different situations and provide a breezy panorama of the American workplace.

Snowden worked as a roadie with the heavy metal band Skid Row, wrote advertising copy, taught high school math, served cocktails, worked as a publicist, cleaned house and carpooled kids, counseled rape victims, strip-teased and hand-molded chocolates. "I wanted to examine persistent myths about jobs," she writes, "the people in them and women in the workplace in general."

Snowden's strength, however, lies in her vivid, often comical, reporting, not in her insights—a casualty, perhaps, of spending only a month at each job. How surprising is it, for example, that touring with a band is dirty, exhausting work or that teachers can be "glorified baby-sitters?"

Occasionally Snowden meshes with the job, becoming less of an observer and letting the experience consume her. As a stripper at the Bourbon Burlesque in New Orleans, she effectively captures the lives of women who have become defined, even trapped, by their work. Although some of them loathe both men and sex, they have mastered the "salesmanship" of stripping, turning a $2 tip into $20 with a smile and a glance.

Snowden is best when she becomes totally immersed in the job. At a rape crisis center in Austin, Texas, she capably empathizes with victims and writes eloquently about the anguish of listening to the stories of their assaults. She admits that the demands of the job felt like a "giant wave" sweeping her out to sea. As a writer in this environment, she thrives. (Norton, $22)

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