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O'HEARN by Greg Mulcahy


by Greg Mulcahy

Pub Date: April 1st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-57366-050-1
Publisher: Univ. of Alabama

A worker bee stumbles his way through an absurdist landscape in the company of two colleagues.

The accomplished prose stylist Sam Lipsyte (The Fun Parts, 2013, etc.) chose this novel by Mulcahy (English/Century Coll.; Constellation, 1996, etc.) to receive the Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize from Fiction Collective 2; readers with an acutely tuned ear for language may find something of value here. Readers who value plot and storytelling over lyricism and expression, however, are more likely to throw it across a room. Here, the author fleshes out the themes of many of his short stories—humiliation in the workplace and a pervasive sense of helplessness—into a novella-length manuscript about work and what it does to us both personally and as a society. There’s an unnamed man who works in the office that drives the novel, but we never learn much about him; he might be ill or simply overmedicated. The man has two colleagues: Minouche, a poorly clothed co-worker given to running commentary, and O’Hearn, whose fewer comments are largely nonsensical. Mulcahy is obviously working hard to create something unique, but the overall effect can be frustrating. For example, here is the language that plays out as the man rides the bus. “Sequence played as apprehension. Repeated. No reason. The sequence was the sequence was the sequence. Any variance far against the odds, and any variance merely an interruption in the sequence of sequences to follow.” Eventually, the novel introduces other avatars: the Volunteer, the Queen, and two new consultants, Madame Pompous and the Twerp, but what roles they play in the novel’s social satire is open to interpretation. Eventually our man is assigned by the Twerp “to create the Awareness campaign which would increase awareness.” This assignment causes a backlash the man calls “The Incident,” leading to the loss of his job, which leads to “The Aftermath," which isn't much of an ending at all, really.

An inventive but ultimately thin portrayal of workplace despair.