Duffy’s first novel follows a man named Phillip on his retail and relationship journeys as he works at a novelty store in Times Square.
Phillip works as a stock boy at a Times Square store called Milton’s World of Fun, which sells literature-inspired toys and gifts. Phillip, who has a college degree, wants a better job to gain financial stability and to be able to confidently pursue a relationship. When he’s rejected from the New York City Teaching Fellows program, he decides to focus his efforts on getting a promotion from replenishment to the sales floor; unfortunately, senior management isn’t supportive, and Phillip’s work and potential remain overlooked. In the meantime, Phillip tries online dating and meets Melissa, a lawyer who lives in Queens and has similar taste in movies as Phillip. They begin dating, but Phillip isn’t honest about his job: He tells Melissa he’s a teacher. Feeling too much pressure to get a better apartment and to be able to take Melissa out on dates, he eventually ends things. The situation at work continues to be discouraging, and Phillip has no luck finding a job elsewhere. Just as his relationship with Melissa starts to gain ground again, a situation arises that threatens to reveal his real profession to Melissa. The end of the book takes a meta turn, as Phillip writes a memoir about working at Milton’s. The day-to-day minutiae of retail can be humorous, with anecdotes of co-workers’ antics and supervisors’ mismanagement that will be relatable to many readers. The book, however, doesn’t let the characters entertain or become engaging; there is virtually no dialogue, turning most situations into dull summaries of interactions and conversations. The happenings on the stockroom floor read like a procedural—“Any item that was open, missing a piece or in bad shape made its way to the damages and an employee was usually designated to process the destroyed goods through the system by subtracting them from the inventory using a scanner”—with the omniscient narrator expressing the characters’ thoughts and motivations. Phillip doesn’t want to be categorized as just a stock boy, but the telling of his experiences ends up being rather flat.
A one-dimensional portrait dampens what could be a relatable story.