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A dreamy meditation on how we construct who we are.

A young temp searches for permanence in Leichter’s whimsically surreal fable of late-stage capitalism.

The nameless protagonist of Leichter’s debut leads a temporary existence. “The calls come on Mondays and Fridays, flanking each week with ephemeral placements,” she explains. It's her job to fill in for others, and she takes it seriously; after all, as she read once on a granola bar wrapper, “there is nothing more personal than doing your job.” All people are replaceable, but the jobs must continue. Filling in for the chairman of the board at Major Corp (“the very, very major corporation”), it is her job to sign documents and stamp dates and run meetings and wear fashionable scarves. “Everyone has a parcel of work they don’t want to do themselves, and what can I say? I’m a purveyor of finished parcels,” she says simply. Soon, she leaves the city and her cadre of casual boyfriends—her culinary boyfriend and her tallest boyfriend and her earnest boyfriend, a designated boyfriend for each possible purpose—for a series of increasingly absurd assignments. On a pirate ship, she fills in for someone named Darla, swabbing the decks and cleaning the company buckets, adjusting her temperament to best channel real Darla. But then Darla returns—she was only visiting her grandparents in Florida—and our unnamed protagonist is on to her next transient post, filling in at a small murder business, with logistics. She comes from a long line of temporaries, but still, she hopes it is temporary, being a temporary. The lucky temps ascend to a state of permanence—“the steadiness,” they call it. “My dream job,” she tells her earnest boyfriend, “is a job that stays.” The novel, playful bordering on twee, is not especially subtle in its commentary—a cohesive identity? in this economy?—but it’s clever and strange and, in the end, unexpectedly hopeful, less a biting gig-economy satire than a wistful 21st-century myth.

A dreamy meditation on how we construct who we are.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-56689-566-8

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Emily Books/Coffee House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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