A young clerk gets caught up in a cost-saving scheme at work that rattles the Texas political establishment in this novel.
J.D. Wiswall has left his rural hometown of Brady, Texas, and moved into a tiny cinderblock house in Austin. He’s taken a job with the state, working as a data entry clerk for the Department of Unemployment and Benefits. His first day is unusual, as he finds his new boss, Brent Baker, outside of the office, passed out in some bushes. Brent claims he has epilepsy, but J.D. isn’t so sure. At work, his few colleagues consist of Deborah Martinez, a financially strapped mother of a grown son; Rita Jackson, a grandmother who runs the office lottery pool; and Conchino Gonzalez, a silent car fanatic. The duties are tedious, but Rita spices things up with hopes about a state contest. If the employees can generate an idea to save Texas money, there is a $10,000 prize. They plan to split the winnings if they succeed but have no good ideas. Back home, J.D.’s mother writes that his aunt is worried about him in the big city: “I keep insisting that you would never befriend hippies or smoke marijuana, but she is inconsolable.” Meanwhile, a reporter is called to the office of the Texas governor, a slippery partisan in a gold-plated wheelchair. He promises the journalist an exclusive, but she discovers something monumental on her own. At J.D.’s office, the hard-drinking Brent thinks he has found a way to claim that $10,000 and arranges a fateful meeting with the “Big Boss” that could be life-changing for all involved. Semegran’s (Sammie & Budgie, 2017, etc.) gently humorous foray into the depths of Texas’ bureaucracy takes a while to get going; after all, he is describing one of the more boring jobs around. But the pace picks up beautifully in the second half, as some chance occurrences and accidental muckraking come together in a manner worthy of Texas politics. Characterization is strong throughout the novel; the dialogue always rings true; and little touches add local color. For example, J.D. is never without pecan treats from his beloved hometown. The conclusion is notable for all that’s changed but also what will likely stay the same.
A comic sendup of state government that remains lighthearted, deadpan, and full of affection for both urban and rural Texas.