The Coworker Summary, Characters and Themes

“The Coworker” is a thriller novel by Freida McFadden. It is set in the office of a nutritional supplement company called Vixed. The story revolves around two coworkers, Dawn Schiff and Natalie Farrell. Dawn is considered strange and unpopular, while Natalie is beautiful and successful. When Dawn doesn’t show up to work one day, Natalie receives an unsettling anonymous phone call that sets the events of the novel in motion.

The book explores themes of jealousy, secrets, and the dark side of office dynamics. It has been praised for its twists and turns, and for keeping readers guessing until the very end.

Summary

Natalie Farrell, a salesperson at Vixed, discovers her coworker Dawn Schiff missing. Dawn is peculiar, punctual, and obsessed with turtles. 

A turtle figurine stained with red and an anonymous call pleading for help deepen the mystery. Upon visiting Dawn’s house, Natalie finds signs of a struggle and a blood-soaked carpet.

The police investigate, but Dawn’s body remains missing. Natalie provides a false alibi, claiming her boyfriend Caleb stayed the night. 

Silent calls from a withheld number and the discovery of an urgent email from Dawn to Natalie raise suspicions.

Natalie rekindles a brief affair with her boss, Seth, while Dawn’s body is found in the woods, brutally beaten. Co-workers reveal Natalie’s past bullying of Dawn, and evidence against Natalie piles up. 

Seth suspends Natalie after discovering accounting discrepancies, and Caleb confesses to giving her a false alibi.

Natalie organizes a 5K run for charity, claiming it’s in memory of her childhood friend, Amelia. On the day of the run, she traces a withheld call to a Rhode Island motel and is arrested.

The narrative shifts to Dawn’s past emails to her friend Mia, detailing Natalie’s escalating cruelty and bullying. Dawn reveals her confrontation with Natalie about missing funds from the company accounts andher expectation of meeting Natalie.

Dawn is alive, staying in a motel with Caleb, her lover and accomplice. They plotted revenge against Natalie for the suicide of Mia, Dawn’s best friend and Caleb’s half-sister, caused by bullying from Natalie and her friend Tara.

In prison, Natalie learns of incriminating evidence planted by Caleb. Dawn and Caleb move to another motel, worried about the lack of a body for conviction. 

Seth bails Natalie out and reveals Caleb’s prior connection to Dawn.

Natalie, Seth, and Caleb join forces to find Dawn, fearing she might kill herself to provide a body for the case. 

They find her on a pier, attempting to drown herself. Dawn attacks Natalie, but Natalie defends herself and reveals Caleb’s love for Dawn.

A year later, Natalie and Dawn organize the 5K event together. Natalie reflects on her secrets, including embezzling company funds and manipulating situations. 

Dawn knows Natalie’s secrets, but Natalie feels secure, believing they are both “dangerous” women.

The novel ends with the revelation that the woman found in the woods was Tara Wilkes, Natalie’s high school friend, murdered by Dawn.

The Coworker Summary

Characters

Natalie Farrell

A charismatic and ambitious salesperson at Vixed, Natalie is initially portrayed as a victim of circumstance. 

However, as the narrative unfolds, her darker side is revealed. She is manipulative and self-serving, resorting to lies and deception to protect her reputation and career

Her involvement in the bullying of Mia, which ultimately led to Mia’s tragic suicide, showcases her capacity for cruelty. 

Driven by a desire for success and a disregard for others, Natalie embodies the toxic nature of ambition and the lengths to which individuals may go to achieve their goals.

Dawn Schiff

Dawn, an accountant at Vixed, is initially presented as an eccentric and socially awkward individual. 

However, her meticulous nature and unwavering sense of justice drive her to seek revenge for the bullying of her best friend, Mia. Dawn’s meticulous planning and ability to manipulate events demonstrate her intelligence and resourcefulness. 

While her actions are motivated by a desire for justice, her willingness to resort to extreme measures blurs the line between victim and perpetrator, highlighting the complexities of revenge and the potential consequences of unresolved trauma.

Caleb McCullough

Caleb, Natalie’s boyfriend and Dawn’s lover, plays a crucial role in orchestrating the events of the novel. His love for Dawn and desire to avenge his half-sister Mia drive him to participate in the elaborate scheme to frame Natalie. 

Caleb’s actions reveal his loyalty and devotion to those he cares about, but also his capacity for deceit and manipulation. 

His willingness to protect Dawn at all costs raises questions about the boundaries of love and the lengths to which individuals may go to seek justice for their loved ones.

Seth Hoffman

Seth, Natalie’s boss and former lover, is a complex character caught between his desire for Natalie and his commitment to his family. 

His initial support for Natalie despite the mounting evidence against her reveals his vulnerability to her manipulation. However, his eventual realization of her true nature and his role in uncovering Caleb’s connection to Dawn demonstrate his capacity for growth and change. 

Seth’s character highlights the complexities of relationships and the potential for individuals to be both deceived and redeemed.

Mia Hodge (Amelia Hodge)

Though deceased, Mia’s presence looms large over the narrative. Her tragic suicide as a result of bullying serves as the catalyst for Dawn and Caleb’s revenge plot. 

Mia’s character represents the devastating consequences of bullying and the lasting impact it can have on both the victim and their loved ones. 

Her absence underscores the importance of kindness, empathy, and standing up against injustice.

Themes

The Dark Side of Office Politics

McFadden’s novel offers a chilling exploration of the toxic undercurrents that can fester beneath the seemingly mundane surface of office life. The story is set primarily within the confines of Vixed, a nutritional supplement company, where the relationships between colleagues are fraught with envy, ambition, and hidden agendas. 

Dawn, the socially awkward accountant, becomes a target for Natalie’s insidious bullying and manipulation, driven by a complex mix of personal insecurities and professional rivalry. The office environment, with its hierarchies, gossip, and power struggles, serves as a fertile breeding ground for these destructive dynamics. 

McFadden’s portrayal of office politics is both unsettling and thought-provoking, highlighting how seemingly innocuous interactions can conceal a darker reality.

The Duality of Human Nature

The Coworker delves into the complexities of human nature, revealing the capacity for both good and evil that resides within each individual. The characters are not simply good or bad but are instead multifaceted beings with conflicting motivations and desires. 

Dawn, initially presented as a victim, is later revealed to be a cunning and vengeful mastermind, orchestrating a complex scheme to destroy Natalie. Natalie, on the other hand, displays both manipulative tendencies and genuine vulnerability, making her a morally ambiguous figure. 

The novel challenges readers to question their assumptions about others and to recognize the potential for darkness that exists within everyone. 

McFadden’s exploration of the duality of human nature is a compelling reminder that appearances can be deceiving and that even the most ordinary individuals can harbor extraordinary secrets.

The Deceptive Nature of Appearances

McFadden masterfully weaves a narrative where appearances are deceptive and truth is elusive. 

The novel challenges readers to question their assumptions about the characters and their motives. Dawn, the seemingly meek and unassuming accountant, is ultimately revealed to be a cunning manipulator. 

Natalie, the glamorous and successful salesperson, harbors deep-seated insecurities and a penchant for cruelty. The office environment, with its carefully constructed facades and unspoken rules, further contributes to this atmosphere of deception. 

The Coworker serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of judging others based on superficial observations and underscores the importance of looking beyond the surface to discern the truth.

The Power of Past Trauma

The novel delves into the profound and lasting impact of past trauma on the lives of its characters. Dawn’s thirst for revenge stems from the bullying and humiliation she endured as a child, which ultimately led to the suicide of her best friend, Mia. 

Similarly, Caleb’s involvement in the elaborate scheme is motivated by his desire to avenge his half-sister’s death. The narrative demonstrates how past trauma can fester and distort one’s perception of reality, leading to destructive behavior and a thirst for vengeance. 

The Coworker explores the complex interplay between past and present, highlighting the ways in which unresolved trauma can continue to haunt individuals and shape their actions, even years later.