A novel packed with humor and absurd plot twists that satirizes corporate scientists and soulless management.
Howard Danishefsky is a hapless soul. He abhors his job at the Robusta Corporation, an international coffee conglomerate; he drinks too much; and his estranged father has never bothered to look him up. Worse, he isn’t even a very good person: he cheated on his now-ex-wife with a woman who has since become his boss, and he spends much of his day silently swearing vengeance on his co-workers—a revenge he exacts by performing covert, scientific tests on them. Throughout the novel, Howard carries on an ongoing conversation with his dead mother, Mimi, a doting Russian woman whom Howard’s mysterious father abandoned. Mimi attempts to steer Howard away from booze and destructive thoughts, but he generally brushes off her advice, or executes it poorly. When Howard’s experiments finally backfire, the Robusta headquarters transforms from purgatory to inferno, and he fights for his life against an army of zombified office drones. Fales’ (Shadows and Fire, 2013, etc.) novel overflows with one-liners and bitter wit, and nearly every line doubles as a nihilistic joke: “The walk to the bus stop was more of a one-man march minus the brass band....His worn shoes pounded the pavement, emphasizing every blister on his feet in a Technicolor rainbow of discomfort.” The characters are also cartoonishly goofy; for example, his ex-mistress has a seemingly bottomless wardrobe of skintight outfits, and his father is part of a secret society called The Consortium of Evil. However, the humor hides pain, as most of the book is dedicated to Howard’s self-loathing. As the action accelerates toward the finale, he shows so much reluctance in the face of danger that the prose can get monotonous, amusing as it is. Even Howard’s dead mother seems to think he’s a stick in the mud, and it’s not until the final pages that he shows any hints of redemption.
Even though it dwells too often on its protagonist’s misery, this book will appeal to anyone who’s ever endured petty bureaucracy.