Friday, April 11, 2008

Books in 2008, #13

#13. The Situation by Jeff VanderMeer

This is, in short, weirdly fascinating. It's also not really a book, but rather a novelette packaged like one so for the sake of my sanity I'm just going to count it here among the others. The Situation is the story of an office's innards and its quirky employees, an account of a place both strikingly different than what we might know and yet all-too-familiar to those that have spent time in a gray-walled cube slaving over market reports and the like. It is the journey of an unnamed protagonist who has just been put in charge of a new project--to create a ginormous fish, from scratch, big enough that it can swallow a child whole. But of course.

Can I admit something here? Yes? Okay, I will then. All of this reminded me somewhat fondly of that scene in Beetlejuice where Adam and Barbara end up finding out that the afterlife is merely a convoluted office setting, brimming with paperwork and monotony. Of course, the characters there were monstrous, sure, but also comical. Here, where our leading worker's fellow employees are shapeshifters, things are less laughable. In fact, they are very much subverted, making them both unclear and interesting. My favorite would have to the Mord, once simply known as Mord, a bird lover who quickly mutates into something more quietly menacing, and all within an office's walls.

Which is really why I think I liked this the most. It's the mix of normalcy and surrealism, the juxtaposition of paperwork and info-seeking beetles, the horror of a manager made completely of ignitable paper, the way isolation creeps in just as hauntingly as it would in any situation. There's a sense of loss, a sense of confusion, an understanding that everyone hates you, and finally for our working friend a chance to break away. It's not exactly how he'd have liked to go (it involves a slug, and for those paying attention earlier on they know exactly what this means--serious business), but it is an end fit for a nobody worker bee.

The Situation is available as a free download from Wired. Click here to check it out.


TK42ONE said...

Beetlejuice and grey cube walls. A combination that, while eerily like my current situation, is intriguing enough to make me happy I already downloaded the book.

Maybe I'll read it while I, well, I can't say. Legal won't let me.

Daniel Ausema said...

I've never worked in a corporate setting, and I still loved the story. My guess is that anyone who has worked in such a place will enjoy it even more. I loved the sort-of open-eyed absurdities, the way there are all these absurd things (to us), but to the narrator, those are just things to mention in passing because they're so normal.

Lots of fun.