An office drone uses absurdist surveys to measure the happiness of himself and his co-workers.
If the narrator from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club had turned to navel-gazing instead of schizophrenic anarchy, he might resemble the sad-sack hero of this debut novel by Porter, which was shortlisted for the Paris Literary Prize in 2011. Raymond Champs is a senior pictographer for the North American Division of furniture maker LokiLoki—essentially, he’s the guy who draws the diagrams that are useless in helping you assemble your Ikea furniture. Raymond dwells on the human condition, a characteristic that drives his wife, Brenda, to drink. Asked how he feels, Ray is prone to answers like, “Okay, I guess I feel like a robot that was programmed to believe it was a little boy, but that just cut itself and to its dismay discovers it can’t bleed.” Brenda’s blunt responses don’t even seem harsh; in fact, she seems quite reasonable by comparison. To further his investigations, Ray composes a survey assembled of questions like, “Are you having an affair?” and “Is today worse than yesterday?” and “Do you think we need more sports?” Testing his colleagues, his wife and other strangers provides mixed results. Some people claim complete happiness, others prove malcontent, and all lie in some manner or another. Porter is clearly playing with language and has an affinity both for absurdist humor and for crisp dialogue. However, tools don’t make a novel whole. This exercise in satirizing the cookie-cutter lives of First-World suburbanites may prove taxing to many readers, especially those who crave a satisfying conclusion. The author pulls out a few tricks at the end, as an encounter with an attractive conceptual artist makes Ray rethink his next steps, but a deliberate rug-pulling gimmick at the finale falls flat, failing to lend our hero the sympathy he’s intended to inspire.
A single-serving comedy about the nature of contemporary doldrums.