Kokoris (Sister North, 2003, etc.) tweaks the zeitgeist in this gently humorous novel about an out-of-work executive.
Both the recession and office politics play a part in the summary dismissal of 50-year-old Charlie Baker, managing head of Chicago’s largest ad agency. Soon narcissistic, tantrum-throwing Charlie is spending his days at an outplacement firm for fired executives. At first he resists the counsel of transition consultant Ned, the kind of Hush Puppy-wearing, middle-management schlump he has always disdained. With his hyper personality and manic wit, Charlie is a dead ringer for Jeremy Piven’s Ari on Entourage, but Kokoris paints Ned and Charlie’s fellow job seekers in the outplacement office with a complexity that arouses painful empathy for their desperation. Increasingly humbled, Charlie begins to follow Ned’s advice and even becomes his friend. Meanwhile Charlie’s employment crisis brings to the surface a deeper crisis on the domestic front. For years so absorbed in his work that he barely paid attention to wife Donna and 16-year-old son Kyle, Charlie has become a stranger in his own home. Before he can bring himself to tell Donna he’s lost his job, she announces she is taking a trip to Maine, alone. While she’s gone, slacker Kyle tells Charlie that Donna knows he’s been fired. Kyle also gives him reason to suspect that his neglect may have driven her into an affair. But Kokoris is not the sort of writer who puts his hero in serious harm’s way. True-blue Donna just wants him to pay a little husbandly attention. While the spouses tentatively reconnect, Charlie gets to know and appreciate Kyle, a budding basketball star who reads Pynchon and plays the piano. When a lucrative but high-pressure opportunity crops up, Charlie is faced with a choice neither surprising nor particularly realistic in today’s economy.
The author has a deft comic touch, but he plays softball with a major league subject.