SNAFU by Ellen Roberge


A Hysterical Memoir About Why the Government Doesn't Work
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A wry insider’s view of the stagnant conditions plaguing governmental offices.

The image of government workers as lazy, ineffective and corrupt is a common one in popular culture. Roberge, now retired after nearly three decades as a civil servant, makes it clear that the majority of her colleagues did not correspond to this stereotype. Nevertheless, for the sake of entertaining material, she focuses on those individuals who hardly worked instead of working hard. Most of the (in)action takes place in Florida, which the author convincingly presents as a kind of hell on earth, complete with palmetto bugs, fire ants, alligators, heat and humidity. Roberge writes in a breezy conversational style, often laced with a raunchy tone. Addressing sexism in the workplace, she notes: “Most of the women I knew would shatter the glass ceiling legitimately, but let’s just say the ones I vividly remember, sadly, the stupid ones, all have glass in their knees.” Office nicknames inspired by the film Dances with Wolves are humorous; the author’s own, based on her conscientious yet futile attempts to navigate through layers of bureaucratic inefficiency, is “Screeches Like Owl.” One of her complaints about supervisors—“They don’t want to read what is written, but when they did, they’d pick something of little importance to question, like punctuation, or grammar.”—is rather telling, since occasional editing lapses in the text can be distracting. Overall, the book seems more suited to readers who prefer a series of vignettes with wacky titles instead of a sustained narrative thread. However, Roberge strikes a chord in the very last paragraph, where she connects a touching moment with her mother to the nature of the co-workers represented throughout the book. During one of their final conversations before her mother’s death, as they watch foolish people feeding the alligators, her mother remarks: “No, they shouldn’t feed them, but it’s not the alligators [sic] fault; they don’t know they’re monsters.”

A collection of anecdotes that, like many of the federal employees portrayed therein, work just enough to get by.

Pub Date: June 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0615610290
Page count: 120pp
Publisher: BureauRat Publishing
Program: Kirkus Indie
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