A bunch of oddballs are transformed into customer-service representatives in this quirky first novel from British author Whiteley.
Born and raised in a fundamentalist commune, Amie knew little of the outside world before she was forced out with her father—the cult's one-time leader—for transgressions that were never explained to her. At middle age, Sam is coming to terms with the fact that the mild-mannered alter ego which once protected his identity as the Death-Defying Sputum has now become his actual identity. Meanwhile, Alma—if that's her real name—has fled Hollywood after a tell-all book and a very messy divorce have ruined her reputation and her career. These are three of the more colorful characters in Whiteley's debut. They are joined by a university drop-out who dreams of becoming a rock star; a spectacularly manipulative young chippy trying to scheme her way to the top; a onetime P.R. executive who may be a sociopath; and a serious, cynical woman who lost all of her friends in a horrible rappelling accident. This disparate group comes together in a new office building in a run-down British resort town, all of them seeking a better life through a career in customer service. Whiteley's mix of the wacky and the mundane is admirably cheeky, but the parts never quite come together to create a satisfying whole. For example, the presence of a retired superhero who once fought villains like the Fruit Bat and Feather-Tickler Woman introduces an element of the surreal into the story, but the fantasy never infects the realistic lives of the other characters. This isn't a novel so much as a bunch of underdeveloped short stories shuffled together like a deck of cards. Whiteley's observations about cubicle dwellers will be utterly familiar to anyone who has ever watched The Office or followed Dilbert in the funny pages, and the members of her large cast are not given enough space to grow into living, breathing characters.
A strange, unsatisfying debut.