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by Ed Park

Pub Date: May 20th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8129-7857-5
Publisher: Random House

An entertaining, if slightly disappointing, debut.

The setting is an office. The goods and/or services provided by the company depicted are never defined, but, clearly, business is not good. There have been firings. Using the first-person plural, Park creates a kind of collective narrator to explore the lives of employees still clinging to their jobs. The use of the first-person plural is a bold, distinctive choice, driving home the point that office jobs have the capacity to render the individual irrelevant, but it would have looked a little bolder and a whole lot more distinctive if Joshua Ferris hadn’t done exactly the same thing in the National Book Award finalist Then We Came to the End (2007). The two novels are not—despite several notable similarities—quite as indistinguishable. Park’s assay is shorter, for one thing, and it closes with a 40-plus page sentence (presented in the form of a letter). This passage is easier to read than one might expect: Park ends his tale of commonplace drudgery by turning it into an office thriller. Dark secrets are revealed, nefarious plots foiled. The ending is both gripping and disappointing. Park is very good at capturing the frustrations, fears and small pleasures flourishing amid the cubicles. His office-party vignettes, meditations on Microsoft products and depictions of people who are trying to retain their humanity in an environment which makes them interchangeable coalesce into a touching, funny group portrait of corporate underlings everywhere. He undermines this accomplishment, though, when he gives his story a villain—an evil madman, no less—rather than letting the bad guy be the office itself.

Kind of like if Office Space ended with scenes from the Kevin Costner vehicle Mr. Brooks.