How much do I love the cover design of this book? And the zany title? And how much do I love the thick, toothy paper the whole thing is printed on? Working with graphic designers has made me a sucker for high quality paper. This whole book feels like a luxury of words, inside jokes and delicious paper.
Protagonist Dr. Edith Vane is a zany (yes, this word again) mess who doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Her school, her career, her life and her relationships fall apart around her and she doesn’t see it coming. The best hints escape her. She doesn’t see the dangers even when a sinkhole eats the parking lot where she parks her car, maggots fall from the ceiling, the campus is overrun with hares, and the building itself starts to crack and list.
She’s quite busy obsessing. With her book (which sounds entirely dreadful), about marrying the barista, about wearing the right patterned blouses and about preventing her students from complaining about her. She’s also preoccupied by the threat of being refreshed (laid off) from her job.
Overt political correctness and hilariously neutral terms for things like layoffs are hilarious because this happens! I love/hate it when HR is afraid to call things what they are, under the guise of improving employee benefits or morale. Refreshed instead of let go. Offering therapy instead of solving the workplace problems people need the therapy for. Workplaces can be misguided and Mayr pokes at this relentlessly with examples that on their own aren’t surprising but when piled up are appalling.
Despite the slightly surreal tilt of the entire novel, little snippets of real life keep it centred.
Edith is relatable. “She needs a new washing machine,” writes Mayr. “She has no time to buy a new washing machine. She wonders how anyone ever finds the time to make a major purchase like a washing machine, and how she can become one of these people. So serene, so capable.”
I scream at my washing machine with regularity. And I don’t have time or inclination to replace it. And I hate those people who have time for household errands. If my computer or car breaks down, so does my rationality.
Mayr exposes chaos, the rivalry and the expectations hidden in so many office jobs, even if her book is set in academia.
“Sometimes, after teaching her classes [Edith] sits at her desk in Leonardo’s office and thinks so intensely about the blankness of her life she forgets to go home until deep into the night; roaming Crawley Hall as a nocturnal being almost provides a kind of solace, as though the evil of the building, of the job, approves of her so long as she doesn’t try to indulge in a life elsewhere.”
And here are the jobs with insane expectations, bad pay, under-appreciated overtime and sneaky, manipulative bosses, summed up and hidden in one beautiful sentence.
Suzette Mayr was at Events 10 (Modern Day Satire) and 14 (Grand Openings: The Alma Lee Opening Night Event) at the 2017 Vancouver Writers Festival.