Books

Dilbert is everywhere

Millions of Americans work in office cubicles. During difficult economic times some cubicle occupants fear for their livelihoods. Corporate downsizing creates a host of empty cubicles.

Ed Park knows the feeling. He was the editor of the Village Voice Literary Supplement when he became concerned about his future. New owners of the newspaper fired Park in 2006. Suddenly, he had lots of spare time. He used it to write his first novel, "Personal Days."

The story takes place in a Manhattan office. A group of employees are working for a nameless company. What this company does is never made clear. Whatever it is, big changes are on the horizon. Cubicles are being vacated as workers are sacked one by one.

Fans of TV's "The Office" will recognize the set-up. It doesn't matter what these workers are supposed to be doing. We are more interested in their interactions and their growing paranoia as the ax continues to fall upon their co-workers.

The boss is a fellow named Russell. Behind his back almost everybody calls him "The Sprout." About half a dozen workers hang out together. They are concerned because their company has been bought by a shadowy organization they call "the Californians."

These employees try to figure out if there are any patterns to these job cuts. They have noticed that people are being fired who have first names beginning with the same letter. One woman is terminated after being exiled to an abandoned floor, a place they call "Siberia."

A new employee seemingly appears out of nowhere. He has an English accent, and nobody can figure out what he does. Is he in management? His name is Grime; his behavior, quite mysterious.

Meanwhile, the soap opera plays out in the workplace. There are flirtations and fascinations. One character obsessively Googles himself. He has an unusual name and it annoys him to think that his namesakes "are having more fun, leading more interesting lives, than he is."

"Personal Days" is spot on in depicting the mundane comedy of cubicle life. One character realizes that he "craved contact, gossip, pointless chat. Wasn't that the one good thing about being in an office? The human connection. It almost beat being alone, except when everyone got so negative and you wished they would just shut up, which lately turned out to be most of the time."

The book is written in three parts. By the time readers reach the final section the story has morphed into a run-on sentence in the form of an e-mail being written inside a stalled elevator by a character who has figured out what is really going on.

Park has penned a brooding farce that glistens with a sinister frivolity.

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