For L.J. Davenport, call-center wage slave of Sutherland’s amusing coming-of-age novel, slacking is part of the job.
Young, suspended from college and in the trenches as a phone psychic, L.J. more or less drifts through his days, hoping to get back into school, find a higher paying job that isn’t quite as soul-sucking and—just maybe—find a way into the heart of his sexy new co-worker, Tanha. Too bad fate isn’t ready to let L.J. float away just yet. Between the mysterious campaign that management has taken against him, the presence of an angry lesbian called Chewbacca, the holy grail of weed bags he just can’t find and the arrival of Marpa, the karmic policeman, L.J. will be lucky to keep his job, his sanity and maybe even his life. Sutherland sure-handedly details L.J.’s adventures with a firm grasp on absurdity, capturing the peculiar rhythms of corporate America without too much winking at the audience. L.J. is both pathetic and endearing, and despite the zaniness creeping up to near-ridiculous heights toward the end, the voices of L.J. and his fellow travelers stay constant and believable throughout. Anyone who’s worked in a call center or “cube farm” environment will both chuckle and shudder at how well the author nails the details, including the often inane morale-boosting events and the gallows humor many workers adopt to get through the day. Although the narrative shows signs of exhaustion and strained credibility in the last 50 pages or so—Chewbacca drives a mobile meth lab—the author manages to wrap things up in an ending that’s illuminating and hopeful, without a Pollyanna spin. The sad truth is that a dead-end job can often lead to a dead-end life, but in this brightly colored, skewed universe, there might just be a way out.
Strong characterizations and a fine sense of absurdity make for an enjoyable tour of corporate hell.