Saturday, July 12, 2008

Review: Personal Days

You're young.  You're restless, and every day you wake up earlier than you really want to hobble into the strictly-scheduled bathroom and create some semblance of "I'm alert" on your face and give yourself some mental pep-talk for the day ahead while you're washing the lethargy away.  All this preparation to go to a job.  Probably your first job.  Most likely not your last job.  And likely not your favorite job.  This is what the first year looks like to most undergraduates that find themselves working in an office that isn't quite i-banking/consultancy crazy but also isn't as free-spirited as how you'd imagine the lives of those young reporters and publicists are (although it's probably true that, as you're lathering that Clearasil on your face in the shower, they're mindlessly rubbing a stick of deodorant on, wondering where the weekend went).
It was this general feeling of being stuck in the workplace doldrums that made me notice the interesting cover of the book Personal Days by Ed Park, and it was my own general fed-up-ness with Corporate America that moved me to buy it after reading the little blurb on the back, which I will conveniently lay out for you here:
In an unnamed New York-based company, the employees are getting restless as everything around them unravels.  There's Pru, the former grad student turned spreadsheet drone; Laars, the hysteric whose work anxiety stalks him in his tooth-grinding dreams; and Jack II, who gives unwanted back rubs, aka "jackrubs" - to his co-workers.
On a Sunday, one of them is called at home.  And the Firings begin.
[Personal Days is] ... a novel for anyone who has ever worked in an office and wondered: "Where does the time go?  Where does the life go?  And whose banana is in the fridge?"
Before I get into my opinions of the book and what, if anything, it made me felt, let me go ahead and just lay out some of the basics.  It's a quick, easy and inexpensive read, taking only $13 out of my wallet and a couple hours of my time (the story only spans about 241 pages of this small paperback).  What's more, Ed's interesting use of formatting and storytelling (moving from first person descriptive, to casual, to an intimate confession from one colleague to another) draws you in, and if you've been working in real job for any span beyond the typical internship-commitment, definitely hooks you.
And the story itself?  Park does a great job of casually introducing you to each character, giving you a small glimpse into their personalities, dreams and backgrounds but leaving most of their personal development up to your own pure conjecture.  You are brought into this unnamed company through water cooler conversation and incomplete memos scrawled on Post-Its, and you are introduced to workers at their most awkward moments, sometimes only very briefly.  In essence Park makes you another worker at the office, privy to all the gossip that travels between cubes but not a connoisseur of any particular information- after all, how much do you really even know about the people that you actually work with?
I found the story, the dialog and the way in which Park unfolds his plot completely believable, totally engrossing and altogether endearing.  As much as I wanted each character to reveal more about themselves, to succeed in the office, I had an equally strong desire for them to be let go, to be given the opportunity to find that piece of them that invariably went missing while sunning day after day under the florescent lights of the floor.  Park creates a completely realistic (at times scarily so) portrait of the workplace that could really be applied to any industry or city, and at once thoroughly captures the essence of this generation's cynicism while simultaneously showcasing our enduring and ironic optimism.
To put it shortly: I completely enjoyed it, and recommend that you check it out.

1 comment:

Sara Joy said...

There's this book called "Then We Came to the End" that is supposed to be similarly funny/tragic/about wage-slavery. I'll let you know if it's good.