When I read Amy Palanjian’s article in the May issue of Real Simple magazine – “Need Help? Hire a Virtual Assistant” – I couldn’t help thinking of Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette? Feeling overwhelmed and alone, Bernadette hires an online service and befriends her virtual assistant. Bernadette’s experience is funny but still a caution.
Despite her savvy as an architect, Bernadette falls into a relationship with a stranger she should not trust. Her online personal assistant, Manjula Kapoor, her “virtual assistant from India,” happily completes tasks for Bernadette and helps her minimize personal interaction with others – at only 75 cents an hour. Manjula manages Bernadette’s life from buying her new clothes, having them delivered to Bernadette’s house – even arranging flight tickets and making restaurant reservations.
Manjula manages to sound polite and friendly when faced with Bernadette’s ramblings or rudeness. She is the ideal assistant – never seen – and, in fact she does not really exist. The whole connection to a virtual assistant has been a scam, a front for a Russian crime syndicate who are now in possession of the family’s financial details – noone is really from India. Ah – only in the movies, or, in this case, in fiction.
In her article, Palanjian suggests making “a list of everything you would like to get off your plate” and offers suggestions making hiring someone safer than Bernadette’s experience. Palanjian notes “a personal referral is always best” – advice Bernadette would probably never have considered. But, then, Bernadette’s antisocial behavior is one of the reasons the book is so funny.
Nevertheless, Manjula Kapoor was the perfect assistant. Her name may not have really been Manjula Kapoor, but someone has been reading and replying to Bernadette’s emails, making dentist’s appointments and booking flight tickets and restaurant tables. Manjula is kind to Bernadette and offers compassion when she needs it – albeit, at a price higher than she thought she was paying.
Would you hire a virtual assistant? I still have some qualms.
My review: Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Semple’s next book will be published in 2017 – one to anticipate.