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TEMPING by Kirby Olson


by Kirby Olson

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-930773-76-4
Publisher: Black Heron

Heavy-handed satire about a disaffected man’s reluctant engagement with life.

Narrator Milhouse Moot has always scorned permanence. A temporary worker for ten years, most recently at the Foundation for Emotionally Troubled Peacocks, he’s encouraged by his psychologist to return to graduate school. He chooses to study at the same Seattle campus where he toiled as a temp, writing his dissertation on comedy and teaching undergraduate English to pay the bills. Later, the psychologist gives him another assignment: Find a girlfriend. Moot has always eschewed relationships; during a short trip to Hong Kong, however, he spies Liisa, a former student working in a circus as a unicyclist. After returning to Seattle, Moot sets aside his vacillating ways, pursuing and eventually marrying the lovely young woman. He applies for a teaching position in Finland, where he is “to teach comic sketches in regional American comic dialects, literature of repartee in English, and a conversation course called Small Talk and Conversation Stoppers in which the emphasis was on talk show type exaggeration and blasphemy.” Moot immediately runs afoul of Marcel Nations, a former circus midget who took to the academy after an unfortunate cannon accident. The two men become rivals, competing for Liisa’s affections and for departmental resources. Their feud culminates in a talent competition, which Nation wins (his act includes looking up women’s dresses while roller-skating and whistling Randy Newman’s “Short People”). As a next move, Moot establishes a circus, hiring mentally retarded patients as clowns and Liisa’s family as “historical relics”: Her brother is placed in a booth titled “Youth Gone Weird,” while her father sits under a banner that reads “The Sad Poet: A Historical Relic of Finland.” Though wildly successful, Moot decides to lower the Big Top and return to his family and university life in Seattle, having finally discovered permanence in his wife’s love.

Some funny lines, but uninspired overall.