The Very Nice Box by Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman is part satire, part psychological thriller, and so much more. Blackett and Gleichman take a really good plot for a thriller and weave it into an extremely original satire. Like most satire, the joke isn’t only on one certain Dutch corporation, but on corporate culture in general. In particular, the companies that spend millions on sounding like they’re a great place to work with great “culture” while simultaneously operating more like a cult than a for-profit corporation. (Which cult have you ever seen that wasn’t for-profit, anyway?)
Review of The Very Nice Box
I happened to read the Kindle version, and I loved every second of the story. Rarely a single page goes by without an outrageous product name. The formula for each STADA product name is: Random adjective or adverb + name of item. Very Nice Box. Cozy Nesting Tables. Peaceful Headphones. Precise Wristwatch. Practical Sofa. The main character, a product engineer for STADA, lives alone in a small apartment that could serve as a showroom for the company. Ava Simon is blindsided one day when the founder of STADA, whom she had worked for from the beginning, retires and hands management of the company over to a young Wharton graduate. Mat tries every corporate gimmick he can to get the employees to like him. “Yes, and” meetings, for example – meetings where answers are only positive, etc.
Ava and Mat begin what, for Ava, is a very unlikely office romance. HR splits them up by transferring him to a different location. When he quits and comes back to Ava, things start to seem a little bit off. For example, he is involved in a weird men’s rights organization called “The Good Guys.” He surrendered his dog to a shelter and told Ava he couldn’t get her back. Ava later finds out that not only can he get his dog back, if he doesn’t, she will be put down. This is the part of the book where the reader suddenly realizes that this isn’t a happily ever after – it’s a thriller. It’s extremely well done. I’m not going to give a spoiler. Read it, I promise you’ll love it.
I usually recommend similar books for people that read and enjoyed the book I am reviewing. To be honest, it’s hard to categorize a book this clever. It’s so original! If you have read any book that compares with The Very Nice Box, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or contact me through the website. Instead, I’ll give two books I read that gave me the same mood and satisfaction in the end: Elanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and A Man Called Ove by Frederick Backmann (Ove is one of my all-time favorite books of any genre).
Ava Simon designs storage boxes for STÄDA, a slick Brooklyn-based furniture company. She’s hard-working, obsessive, and heartbroken from a tragedy that killed her girlfriend and upended her life. It’s been years since she’s let anyone in.
But when Ava’s new boss—the young and magnetic Mat Putnam—offers Ava a ride home one afternoon, an unlikely relationship blossoms. Ava remembers how rewarding it can be to open up—and, despite her instincts, she becomes enamored. But Mat isn’t who he claims to be, and the romance takes a sharp turn.
The Very Nice Box is a funny, suspenseful debut—with a shocking twist. It’s at once a send-up of male entitlement and a big-hearted account of grief, friendship, and trust.Harper
Laura Blackett and Eve Gleichman
The Very Nice Box is a collaboration of Blackett and Gleichman. According to Laura Blackett’s website, she and Eve are neighbors and co-writers. Laura is a woodworker and a writer. Her personal website is here. Eve Gleichman is a writer and literary agent. Brendan Dowling of the Public Library Association wrote a wonderful summary of the book and included a Q&A with Blackett and Gleichman. It’s great. Read it here.
Ten Book Club Questions for The Very Nice Box
- Ava’s behavior in the beginning of the book is very withdrawn, with defensive walls erected all the way around her heart. We later learn this is a reaction to major grief. Would she be better off if Mat had never come around?
- Good Guys: Cult, Men’s Rights Group, or legitimate support group?
- What was your favorite product name, and would you have a use for a Very Nice Box?
- Ava’s love for dogs is strong. Mat uses it to grow close to her, but later, it brings about some of her first suspicions. What other signs did you see that made you skeptical about Mat?
- Mat and Ava love the Thirty-Minute Machine podcast. What are your favorite podcasts?
- Mat appears on Thirty Minute Machine to try to get to Ava. Would that fly on a pre-recorded podcast?
- SPOILER: In the end, Mat is trapped inside a Very Nice Box. Poetic or far-fetched?
- Throughout the book, there are many new “app startups” that Mat, Jaime, and Ava use. What trendy apps have you tried, and do you have any ideas for a new one?
- Which actors and actresses do you think would play Ava, Mat, Jaime, Karl, and Judith?
- Is Judith a villain or one of the good-guys?