In Archer’s novel, a disgruntled young office worker falls into a dark downward spiral.
Mike O’Donnell, the handsome, caustic, disaffected narrator of Archer’s propulsive, expletive-laden debut, works in the Computer Services department of a liberal-arts college in Philadelphia. He hates his co-workers (two of whom are often responsible for the two odors of the book’s title), hates the promotion his boss thrusts upon him (even while he accepts it) and spends a good deal of his time brooding over old memories, including his childhood with his abusive father. Outside of work, he tries to relax with sleeping pills, excessive drinking and prostitutes, and he increases his dosages of all three every time they fail to work. His off-color mental rants are meant to stand in ironic contrast to the blandly courteous exterior he presents to co-worker—as he points out, he doesn’t really have any friends—and Archer narrates the workplace-satire elements with an energy designed to snare readers. That momentum is frequently countered by Mike’s repulsive pettiness. Even readers who agree with some of his tirades will want to distance themselves from a character who screams, “Can anything ever be easy for me!” when he finds an empty newspaper machine. Or when he contemplates a lacrosse ball in his boss’ office: “I consider the weight of the ball and think about how bad I could hurt someone if I threw it at their face.” Archer also gives too much weight to Mike’s Oedipal issues.
Obsessive workplace-gripers (and porn fans) will find rewards in this high-energy novel, but its more caustic elements will bring the book a limited audience.