Friday, November 27, 2009

Then We Came To The End, Joshua Ferris

3 1/2 stars

4th in the novels set at work series. You will feel like you are working with these people, for better or for worse.

This first novel generated a lot of buzz before it ever came out. A lot of that buzz centered on the fact that it is written in the first person plural. This 'we' is appropriate to the denizens of the office, though I think that to some extent it kept me from really forming an attachment to many of them. There is also no back story to any of the characters - we just jump into their lives midstream. Again, this is very effective in demonstrating the notion that we don't really know our colleagues as entire people, we just know their at-work personae.

I wanted to love this book, but found that I couldn't quite get there. Pretty much everyone who reviewed it raved about it, which always makes me think I must be missing something if I don't, too. It is entertaining. I was slightly relieved by the middle section, which is told in the third person and is plot-driven - regular novel style. When I came to the end, I found I cared more for the individuals than I would have originally believed.

Here's an interview with Joshua Ferris about the book.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Office of Desire, Martha Moody

4 stars!

#3 in my 'books set at the office' series.

This book has it all! Religious fanaticism, odd sexual pairings, death, betrayal, amputation... Somehow Martha Moody manages to make all of these elements seem pretty reasonable despite them all happening to a mere 6 people in the course of about a year.

Told from the perspectives of two of the characters, this is a fun and quick read. I like that these co-workers are intrinsically wound into each other's lives, but have almost no relationship outside of the office. It explores the idea that the people one works with and the atmosphere of the workplace have a huge impact on one's life, without necessarily having much influence at all after 5 0'clock.

Martha Moody is a physician as well as a writer - a combination I always find devastatingly seductive. She has also found the energy to raise four sons - proving yet again that doctors are confirmed overachievers.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Gum Thief, by Douglas Coupland

4 stars!

#2 in my 'books set at the office' series

Book two in the November 'novels set at work' series. Leave it to Douglas Coupland to write from the heart of the zeitgeist. What should seem like satire in his hands reads like realism. And so we find our two characters, unlikely allies, working at a Staples 'office superstore', and pretty much hating life. The cast expands to include family members and so-called friends, and there is also a novel-within-the-novel, which mirrors the, um, outer novel.

The entire book is told through letters, diary entries, and chapters of the protagonist's own book. This kind of self-evaluative narration works really well. The characters are allowed to speak for themselves with unsophisticated, bitter honesty.

They are, in fact, are so eerily real and devastatingly unhappy that I was ready to down a few thousand vodka tonics myself just to keep up. Luckily, Coupland skillfully pulls us all back from the brink without giving in to a pat and happy ending. Everyone experiences a little redemption, but we're all still broke and unsatisfied, living in soulless modern western culture... A good book to read during misery-inducing November.

Douglas Coupland's new book Generation A is going to hit bookstores soon; I'm adding both it and Generation X to my list. A is not so much a sequel, apparently, as a similarly structured story set 20 years after X.

I found this on Coupland's homepage:
Douglas Coupland has no facebook or myspace page.

He does, however, have a twitter account. Here's my favorite post:

Hit by scary mood jitters that come every fall/winter; the seasonal depression thing. That it's predictable makes it somehow stupider.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Personal Days, by Ed Park

3 stars

I'm devoting November to books that take place primarily in offices. First up: Personal Days, by Ed Park.

Richard Russo, who is one of my very favorite authors, recommended this book in some interview or other, so of course I was determined to love it. Which serves as a reminder that taste is a strange and subjective thing.

This book is divided into three parts - the first is the blog I would like to claim authorship of if I worked in soulless corporate America (which thankfully I do not). The second is slightly more story-driven, with longer entries, for lack of a better word. This section features a Byzantine outline formula that I was completely unable to fathom (perhaps because I am wholly unfamiliar with office-place organizational practices). The last section is a rambling stream-of-consciousness email from one character to another.

The changes in narrative style are, I think, where I got lost. Google reveals that most reviewers of this book loved it, and pretty much everyone but me thinks it is a kind of fable of the lay-off era. I found the all-is-revealed final chapter incredibly far-fetched. I suppose this is common in fables, but for me didn't really work in this otherwise just-like-your-job-but-worse chronicle.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, by Evie Wylde

5 stars!

This was an impulse pick - I chose it for the title, and because it's set in Australia. What an incredible find! It' a first novel, described by the author herself as a "romantic thriller about men who don't talk". That's a fairly apt description; these men don't talk much, but they sure do feel.

The story moves back and forth between father and son. This is a construction that in my opinion can be very confusing and interrupting, but here it really does serve to illustrate a generational legacy of sorrow and isolation. I was riveted.

Here is a clip of Evie Wylde talking about the experiences she had as a child visiting family in Australia, which inspired the book. It's about 5 minutes long; she is charming.