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A Women’s Networking Group Veers into Cult Territory in “Please Join Us”

The 14th novel from Montreal-based author Catherine McKenzie imagines nefarious working women who take on "the boys club" with terrifying consequences. / BY Dene Moore / September 19th, 2022


When bestselling author Catherine McKenzie was still practicing law, she started a women’s networking group to counteract the persistence of the “boys’ club” in the legal profession, and was also invited to join others. These groups – and the need for them – is the foundation for her latest psychological thriller, Please Join Us.

“I think #MeToo kind of scratched the surface with famous people in public forums, but it’s never come to many other professions, like law, and it’s not because people don’t have stories. We all have stories,” McKenzie says in an interview from her home in Montreal. “I just wanted to touch on that and the reality that a lot of women still face in those environments for a variety of reasons.”

The novel revolves around Nicole Mueller, 39, whose once-promising legal career is floundering, her relationship with her husband, Dan, is under pressure as they face eviction from their home, and her life is generally falling short of her hopes. She is mysteriously invited to join an exclusive women’s networking group and, despite some misgivings, signs up for a retreat in Colorado.

 

“I think she fully put all of her energy into her career, and everything felt like it was going in the right direction and then one thing happened, and now she feels completely destabilized,” McKenzie says of Nicole. “And in that moment of destabilization, she’s approached by this organization that’s promising to fix her problem.”

The first night at the retreat, where Nicole is joined by other new recruits – a company CEO, an actress, a congresswoman and a corporate finance shark – one of the group’s founders explains they took the scientific name for the lion species as their name, because, in a pride, the lioness gets things done.  “Without women, the men wouldn’t eat, they wouldn’t have the ‘lion’s share’ to take. That’s true for humankind too, but often unacknowledged, even today.”

From then on, she is part of the pride. “When one of us asks for help, we say yes without hesitation or excuses. We don’t put up barriers or question choices, we let our fellow Leo know that we are there for her and we will do whatever it takes to resolve her issue,” she is told.

The events that follow the initiation make for a fast-paced thriller that takes place against a backdrop of very real-life issues for many women in male-dominated professions.

For a long time, women in non-traditional roles felt they were pitted against one another, McKenzie says. The reality is that existed because women felt like there was only room for one woman at the table,” McKenzie says. “I don’t think men ever feel like that. I think men – good men, bad men, in-between men – just grow up feeling – and it’s reinforced – that all the spaces are for them. They don’t think about the spaces around the table.”

 

Catherine McKenzie
Montreal writer Catherine McKenzie, a former lawyer, says the #MeToo movement bypassed the legal profession. Photo: Courtesy of Catherine McKenzie.

 

McKenzie, who wanted to write a novel where all the main characters are women, says it’s not a feminist polemic. “It’s supposed to be a fun read, but it doesn’t hurt to have an underlying message in a fun read.”

She says 70 to 80 per cent of fiction readers are female, and stories with ordinary women in extraordinary circumstances are particularly appealing to them. Her own fusion of women’s fiction and psychological thriller has certainly proven popular. 

Please Join Us is her 14th novel since her first, Spin, was published in 2010. She’s had several bestsellers, including 2021’s Six Weeks to Live, but she didn’t quit practicing law and begin writing full-time until 2020.

Despite working much less after leaving the law firm where she was a partner, McKenzie found it difficult to write during the pandemic, when the world was largely shut down and she was working at home.

“A lot of creativity comes from actually being out in the world and interacting with other people. I personally got very little writing done for a good four or five months, and many other creative people I know had the same problem.”

It reminded her that she needs a community and to get out into the world. “Being at home with your thoughts all day is not necessarily a recipe for good mental health or any other kinds of health,” she says with a laugh.

 

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