Susan Rigetti’s “Cover Story” is part Anna Delvey, part “The Devil Wears Prada” and is the must-read of the summer that you’ll absolutely tear up.
Here a scammer, there a scammer. It seems like everywhere you look these days, there’s yet another salacious true-crime story to tell. From the breathtaking February The Tinder scammerbananas equally from netflix bad veganfor better or for worse, the scammers (literally) stole the show.
Ironically, Susan Rigetti’s impassive Cover story was written pre-crook madness. But the ex-engineer-turned-Uber whistleblower’s debut novel (oh, we’ll get to that) responds to our current moment and satisfies our crook’s sweet tooth so much that we just had to make it our pick of Fodor’s Book. Club for May.
The novel begins in the fast-paced, high-stakes world of fashion magazines, an intro not unlike the opening scene of The devil wears Prada, where we meet the passionate and green Lora Ricci, an Elle intern who hopes to turn her experience at the magazine into her aspiring dream of becoming a writer. There she meets Cat Wolff, a socialite/writer/rich girl who seems to have it all. Cat quickly becomes Lora’s mentor, and this is where things start to get a little messy.
Lora is also fascinated and bewildered by Cat’s lavish lifestyle, and is soon led to become her ghostwriter – where she eventually realizes that all is not what it seems.
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And speaking of counterfeits, you might recognize Susan from another infamous scam story — she was Uber’s whistleblower. At just 25 years old, her explosive, powerful and courageous story exposed Uber’s toxic, sexist and retaliatory environment. It shook up the tech community, which ultimately led to the ousting of then-CEO Travis Kalanick.
So how did she go from tech to writing novels? Find out more in our (mostly spoiler-free) interview below.
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Fodor’s: Do the characters in Cover story take inspiration from someone you know? Does any part of you relate to Lora as a young, small-town woman trying to make her mark in a fast-paced world?
Susan Rigetti: The characters are completely fictional. I struggled in the early drafts to make them feel like real people, and one of the things I ended up doing that helped me bring Lora’s character to life more was to trying to remember my own concerns, worries and frustrations when I was Lora’s age. I even went back to my own journal entries from many years ago and tried to find phrases, concerns and words that I could pull from myself in my early twenties and put them in Lora’s diary.
If Cover Story is ever adapted, who would you like to play the roles of Lora and Cat?
My list of dream actors is so long!
[Editors Note: Susan is played by Eva Victor on Showtime’s Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber.]
Speaking of cinema, reading this book felt like I could imagine this world so clearly and vividly. You also wrote a screenplay – did that experience help you write Cover story?
I really wanted the locations and everyone in the story to feel like characters from the book, so I worked on that a lot. My experience as a screenwriter certainly helped me with this, because it helped me think very clearly about what each location looked like, how the characters interacted with the locations, and how to describe the locations. By the time I turned in my final version of the book, I could describe each location in great detail – for example, I could tell you exactly where the light switches and electrical outlets were in each room.
Can you tell us a bit about your research methods?
The novel covers so many different industries, themes, and locations, and I had to do quite a bit of research. The pandemic has made some research a bit tricky. For example, I originally planned to go hang out in person at the Plaza Hotel, but at the start of the pandemic, that wasn’t possible. So instead, I did a ton of virtual tours and got to know every inch of the hotel and the various suites and eventually Cat’s suite through videos and virtual tours.
Why did you decide to write this novel in the form of written correspondence? Was it easier to write this way, or did it make the process more difficult? How do you think this book will perform as an audiobook?
I knew the plot and understood the twists before I wrote the book, so I knew I had to write it in a format that worked for the plot. I have always loved epistolary novels (Where did you go, Bernadette is one of my favorite books of all time), so I knew right away that I wanted to write it that way.
The format was so much fun and also presented some unique challenges. When writing the entries, I wanted readers to feel like I was sifting through the evidence. I also wanted to let readers build a narrative about what was happening, but I had to be careful not to give away twists while making them obvious in the text. It was quite a balancing act!
Due to the format, the audiobook was going to be tricky, but [audiobook narrator] Carlotta Brentan did an absolutely amazing job.
From engineering to writing, your journey has been an (inspiring!) rollercoaster. What do you think about leaving behind a career in engineering and taking up writing?
After reporting Uber, I knew I could never work as an engineer again, so I decided I was going to pursue the dream I had always had since I was a little girl and become a writer. I love to write and I’m incredibly lucky to be able to spend my days living my dream!
Victims of scams are often accused of not being smart enough to prevent them from happening. But it is not as simple as it seems, as we read in this book. Do you want people to empathize with those who have been duped, which happens in so many ways these days?
Absolutely. One of the things I’ve learned from researching and writing this book is the extent to which con artists and scammers abuse trust – the trust we have in institutions, the trust we have in our similar, etc And one of the things I wanted to demonstrate to the readers of this book is that sometimes we get so busy blaming others for being duped that we don’t realize have been in fact those who are duped.
Very often, scammers get away without any punishment, be it fiction or nonfiction. Do you think books/shows/movies about crooks and crooks glorify him?
I do not think so. Let’s say that by “glorifying” we mean that the ultimate thesis or argument of a particular book, show, or movie is that this (scam/scam/scam) is the way we should live, or is the way we should treat others, or something like that. I believe there are very few books, movies or shows that actually make this argument – I can’t even think of one that does it off the top of my head. And I don’t think the mere existence of fraudulent shows, books, or movies means that we encourage or glorify the behavior as a society.
In one way or another, we have all become obsessed with scams, from The Tinder scammer for bad vegan for The stall–this book seems right on time. What do you think makes us culturally so drawn to these stories?
It’s funny because I first wrote this book two and a half years ago, and I had no idea all the con-related stuff that was coming out this year. There’s a whole bunch of scammers out there right now! I love it.
I think scammers and scammers and people who are scammed and scammed are really fascinating, both in fiction and in real life. These stories make great character studies, and they’re full of conflict, emotion, and high stakes, which are the necessary ingredients for great drama.
I’ve always been both fascinated and terrified of scam artists – one of my all-time favorite books and movies is Catch Me If You Can. I’m very rule-bound and can’t imagine being the kind of person who would knowingly and willfully not only break laws and rules, but also manipulate them. And so when I come across a scam story, I’m immediately curious what kind of people are doing these things – I want to know their motives, I want to know how they justify themselves.
‘Cover Story’ by Susan Rigetti (published by William Morrow/HarperCollins) is now available in connected, e-book and audio book.