break room


black swan green (david mitchell)*
CHALLENGER: the unnamed (joshua ferris)

joshua ferris's debut (then we came to the end, a deft and funny novel about an embattled chicago advertising firm) read like torture porn for me: i work in an industry which hemorrhages people all the time, so the layoffs in that book made my skin crawl. the pink slips are layered between clever little renderings of the firm's collective consciousness - the book is narrated in the first-person plural, which is both weird and somehow suited to the material - so the violins never swell too loudly, at least not at first.

ferris's second novel, the unnamed, couldn't crack a donut joke at gunpoint; it's also about suits and ties (and begins in midtown manhattan, the ultimate office space), but it's more like a cross between fight club and into the wild, and far less than the sum of those parts. it begins with what we're told is a recurrence of...something: tim, a fairly uninteresting new york city lawyer, comes home from work in a state of utter desolation, tears himself out of his corporate suit, and bundles up like an arctic explorer. he's once again suffering from the "unnamed," which is (a kind of ill-fitting reference to beckett's the unnamable, which ends with "i can't go on, i'll go on," and) a mysterious condition that forces tim to walk - instantly and mindlessly, for miles, generally out into the middle of nowhere, where he collapses in a deep sleep.

as one would imagine, this makes it rather tricky for tim to be a lawyer, and a husband (and a father, and someone who consistently has skin on the soles of his feet). i like ferris best when he's concentrating on what tim's condition costs him in his marriage and his relationship with his daughter; the scenes in his office make it difficult to understand why his professional identity is so important (ferris's workplace stuff was much more interesting in then we came to the end), and the man vs. himself segments in the last third of the unnamed - when tim's condition becomes an active foe, with a voice and a deadly yet tedious need to dominate and humiliate him - add little to the story. I am Jack's Lack of Interest in Amateur Experimental Fiction.

...but that's too harsh; i loved parts of david foster wallace's grad-school novel,** the broom of the system, and even DFW himself said it was a turkey. my point is that unless an author is my favorite author (or his work is adapted by one of my favorite directors), he really needs to earn the wild stuff - and in ferris's case, it detracts from some really wonderful family scenes. tim and his daughter watching buffy the vampire slayer DVDs together nearly broke my heart, and i mean that in all seriousness. stay out of the office and off the road, ferris. you belong at home for a bit.

VICTOR: david mitchell, who wields the spooky like he was born with it in his pocket. how can a young american - even one who wipes out flocks of birds and swarms of bees for no apparent reason - compete?

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 are you able to watch/read workplace dramas without nausea? (i still don't know if i can deal with up in the air.)

02 how do you feel about fight club? what about samuel beckett?

03 speaking of david fincher, have you seen the social network? what did you think?

04 how have you been? i've missed you, imaginary reading group.

*previous battle here.

**(written there, not written about there, thank god)


rachel (heart of light) said...

1. Yes. Loved Ferris's first novel. Also liked Up in the Air, although not as much as everyone else seemed to. Does Dilbert count? Also loved Dilbert. Oh, and Office Space. And I still watch The Office, even though it's terrible. So I guess the answer is I'm mildly obsessed with workplace stuff, of the dramatic or comedic variety, but I didn't realize it until just now.

3. Not yet. On the list. We saw The Town yesterday and realized it was literally the first movie we'd seen since Up in the Air. I clearly don't make it out often.

4. We missed you too! Also, I just finished Let the Great World Spin, so I've been thinking about reading club for the last week or so.

jacob said...

01 i enjoyed then we came to the end, though i didn't have a visceral reaction to it. then again, i've always worked in non-profit research-y places, where the energy level and pace is a bit more leisurely (and now i work from home). the number of workplace dramas is pretty low; i wonder why that is? the uk version of the office (yes, yes, i'm that guy who never really enjoyed the remake - not tragic enough) was uncomfortable enough to make me leave the room at times. up in the air was amusing on first viewing, but upon more thought is rather problematic.

02 i detested fight club (the movie) when it came out, and i haven't revisited it since to see if i agree with my 20-year-old self. preys upon the continual fear about the alleged feminization of men in the modern age (this is a recurring topic in k-12 education as well). also led to lots of annoying dudes starting their own fight clubs. 

04 i've been doing more house painting than reading, alas (damn you, dining room wallpaper!), though i picked up postwar after a long absence (rip tony judt). good enough to make european economic integration readable! also a bit of late-era iris murdoch. 

kidchamp said...

how was the town, rachel? i want to see it, but i'm having a hard time convincing the locals to go with me. also looking forward to hearing what you thought of the colum mccann!

jacob, you'd have found a number of the mid-2000s new york parties fairly disturbing, i think. 

LPC said...

01 yes. i cannot however watch anything farcical or involving bad lies.

02 i don't like people to hit eachother. i am ok if they want to pop up from trashcans, i.e. Oscar the Grouch.

03 no but i want to

04 well that's a good question. how HAS everyone been?

Amanda said...

01 It's the waiting tables stuff that makes me nauseous. Office Space just makes me mad.
02 First rule of Fight Club, Lauren.
03 I don't actually see new movies anymore. I blame Film Forum.
04 The Internet is better with Laurens than without them. We've missed you terribly.

el pulpo paul said...

Another was during an early argument when I was defending Samuel Beckett. Death and approaching death are as about as interesting a literary subject as peristalsis, was his position. But I said The fact is that people don't live as if death made any difference. There are innumerable institutions set up to encourage them in this, they spend years of their lives specifically defending against thinking that death is real and devoting themselves to the contemplation of various fictitious afterlives. But, I said, the world would be better if people incorporated the apprehension of death into the way they run their lives. Beckett makes you want to do that. Therefore he's a moral writer and important. He looked at me as if to say I had a point, and then said That's a very decent point. He would try Beckett again, he said.

N. Rush, _Mating_

kidchamp said...

(i myself like beckett, though his fixation on his own ass [according to deirdre bair's biography] has always been a little off-putting.) any new news on rush's subtle bodies? i feel like he's been about to finish a novel for two or three years now. 

@LPC on the move, for my part, and about to take off again. this trip excites me the most, for we get to wander about aimlessly, which is what we do best. also our hotel has a giant alabaster fireplace. giant alabaster fireplace!

rachel (heart of light) said...

just realized that i failed to comment at all on the book at hand. i guess that says something about it? i read it, but felt it fell in the in between space. not quite weird enough to truly take off, but weird enough to be distracting. i don't know. i guess my reaction was "meh".

totally with you on those buffy dvd scenes, though. prob the best part of the novel.

re: The Town, blake lively is not present in most of the movie. so if you can put up with her in 5 min increments, you'll be totally fine. see it! (only if you like bank robberies and car chases, which are two of my favorite things in movies, honestly) i dismissed it out of hand because the billboards with the nun masks + the name made it look like a horror flick. not on board with that ad campaign.

Milkmaid's dumb friend said...

01: So painful for all their brothers and sisters in the struggle.
02: Fight Club (movie): sort of great, but its significance is exaggerated just a touch in some circles.  Fight Club (book): pretty great, although Survivor is always neck-in-neck in my mind (like, chapter 44 = smiley-face emoticon).  Samuel Beckett: I still listen to Krapp’s first tape, ya’mean?
03: Real, real good.
04: Kidchamp done came up, Got her name up/So when they speak of who blinged up, She’s who they bring up.

Katherine Cortes said...

03: they nailed Zuck as a version of a dozen schmucks I knew, just luckier. The rest of Harvard was painfully close - EXcellent location design, dialogue, detail.

04: I thought it was me ... glad to know I didn't miss too much. The NW is nice too, you know. You're welcome any time.