Three Novelists Create Narratives About Work

It’s the weekend, and if you’re looking for a good story to fill you day, here are three suggestions from three authors who in their respective novels capture our attitudes toward life, work and success. Often we find in the imagination of others, inspiration and understanding of our own lives. These three authors give voice to our expectations of work and success and the inevitable collision with reality.

Meg Wolitzer  ‘The Interestings’

In the summer of 1974 a group of adolescents meet at an arts camp. The narrative follows their progress toward realization of their dreams. Meg Wolitzer  “allows her characters to come to see happiness not as getting what they thought they wanted, but wanting what they’ve wound up having — a definition in which succeeding doesn’t require exceeding.” writes Liesl Schillinger reviewing ‘The Interestings’ for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

“Though I think about work all the time. For me, it’s not just to stay busy. I mean, partly it’s a distraction from what I can’t change. They need me at the studio. When I’m gone, like this week, they all…flail. But mostly it’s because work is just so great to think about. It’s sort of an endless replenishing…If you can’t have a good relationship with somebody then you should at least have a good relationship with your work. Your work should feel like…an incredible person lying next to you in bed.”

Dave Eggers ‘A Hologram for the King’

Dave Egger’s character, Alan Clay is a self-employed consultant who arrives in the Saudi Arabian desert to work on an ambiguous assignment. Alan is a middle management American, looking to regain his self confidence and find meaning in his work.

“…He was more than that. Some days he was more than that. Some days he could encompass the world. Some days he could see for miles. Some days he climbed over the foothills of indifference to see the landscape of his life and future for what it was: mappable, traversable, achievable. Everything he wanted to do had been done before, so why couldn’t he do it? He could. If only he could engage on a continual basis. If only he could draw up a plan and execute it. He could! He had to believe he could. Of course he did.”

Joshua Ferris ‘Then We Came To The End’

“We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise.” begins the narrative of Joshua Ferris’ 2007 novel, ‘Then We Came to the End’.

Set in a Chicago advertising agency, this is a story of work and co-workers. It’s a story of the inhumanity of downsizing and the humanity of people who show up every Monday morning for work. He vividly describes the culture of a shrinking organization.

“What little work remained was never any fun….We could enjoy nothing but our own rumoring. Conversation never extended beyond our walls, walls that were closing in on us, and we failed to take stock of anything happening around them…In the last week of August 2001, and in the first ten days of that September, there were more layoffs than in all the months preceding them. But by the grace of god, the rest of us hung on, hating each other more than we ever thought possible.”

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