Thursday, July 4, 2013

Review: Personal Days

Personal Days
By Ed Park
Random House 2008
241 pages
From the library
PEN/Hemingway #4

Personal Days

The workers in an anonymous New York City office fear for their jobs. One by one, it seems like they are being fired for reasons no one can quite verbalize. Do they stay employed by working extra hours? Or does that draw unwanted attention? Should they blend in with their co-workers or will they fire anyone who is not outstanding? But maybe none of them care all that much about keeping this boring job where they aren't even sure who is in charge. Is it the ridiculous Russell, who they all refer to as The Sprout? The alluring and mysterious Maxine? Or perhaps a shadowy board all the way out in California? In Personal Days, Pru, Jonah, Jack, Laars, and their co-workers try to find the answers to these questions through emails and covert meetings during cigarette breaks...all without losing their minds.

Personal Days is a funny read. Parks understands many of the absurdities of a modern workplace - the mind numbing day to day work, the desperate scramble to keep your job even if you don't love it, and the ever rotating upper management, unknown to the people whose jobs and lives they impact. The book is somewhat experimental. It has three very different sections. The first is told with a straightforward narrative. The second section is told as a sort of outline gone wild, with long digressions under Roman numerals. The last section is a rambling run-on sentence of an email from one co-worker to another.

The problem with this book, ultimately, is that the humor is a little less funny with every page. While the wry observations might cause you to chuckle on page 15, you simply nod in recognition by page 100. There is a sense of mystery and paranoia that hangs over the pages. The employees are desperate to make some sort of sense of their jobs and the place where they work. They become amateur sleuths, puzzling over who was fired and why, and dissecting every word from the management. But the sense of intrigue is not enough to hold the reader's attention and when the secrets are all revealed, it seems somewhat predictable.

Personal Days is a quick read and it certainly exhibits the dry observational wit of its author. The strange culture of a shared work space is smartly dissected, but it is just too long. Perhaps this book would have worked best as a short story or novella that would show off Park's talent without leaving the reader wishing for a shorter book. 

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