Monthly Archives: May 2010

peasants/I am death

Usually when I talk about books I’m all “here’s a bit that was cool,” “this thing was going on that I reacted to,” etc., but it’s in my mission statement not to tell you that Darth Vader’s Luke’s father or anything similar. That’s also true here, but in “Peasants” you discover things about previous scenes as you’re reading, and conceivably my commentary could interfere with that. Be forewarned.

If I’d known “Peasants” took place in an office, I’d have gotten on to it sooner. I have an unreasoning love for office space stories. This one is peculiar in that it doesn’t heighten reality as markedly as others: Then We Came to the End, Office Space, and The Office have hijinks; Swimming with Sharks, The Business of Strangers, and In the Company of Men have extreme levels of darkness; Then We Came to the End and The Office have arguably attention-grabbing stylistic conceits. It’s as if working in an office is so boring that there can’t be a story about it without some fantasy. Fantasy can be awesome, but “Peasants” has none of these and is still fantastic.

I’m mixing movies and tv and books because I don’t know many office stories of any kind. Maybe, again, because offices are boring? I was waiting to receive the latest “One Story” (Grant Munroe’s “Corporate Park”–a “Corporate Folktale”) to see if it substantiated or contradicted my claims, but I’ve stopped waiting and instead assume I’ll never receive mail again.

Anyway, what spooked me out as I was getting into this is the two-men-interact-with-each-other-based-on-their-interactions-with-a-woman idea. Because it occurred to me that, comedies (or largely comedic ventures) aside, all of these stories are male buddy stories with a woman as the third point of the triangle, the object making the plot work–or in one case, vice versa. I mean, In the Company of Men and The Business of Strangers are so similar I wonder if it was intentional. (White collar men are abusive assholes to a woman for vengeance against women generally in a movie whose title alludes to the workplace setting versus white collar women are abusive assholes to a man for vengeance against men generally in a movie whose title alludes to the workplace setting.) Which I noted after I saw them, but thought nothing of until reading this, which also does the triangulation thing, and remembered that Swimming with Sharks does, too. And yeah, a lot of stories do. But I can’t think of a dramatic office story that doesn’t. (Glengarry Glen Ross, but that’s more of a sales thing. The office is an office like a police station’s an office.) If you have one, educate me in the comments. Because the next thing I was wondering about is whether there was something about offices that makes male-female relations and bonding based thereon a particularly likely subject. Hypothesis: Offices are about people chafing against the culture of what’s permitted such that they act out in these straight sexual transgressions, drawing someone in as their co-conspirator to define, within this “transgressiveness” what is and isn’t okay.

But to talk more directly about the novella… It probably shares more with And Then We Came to the End than the others, tonally, in that its office is a community instead of just a backdrop. Gossip and the paranoia it breeds get a lot of play.

I liked the arguments, of which there were many, which nailed the gravity that small actions take on when people lose their shit and the weird childlikeness that can ensue. Here Rasmussen’s friend/boss just threw a pen at him:

It sailed past Rasmussen’s head and clattered against the window. Had it struck him, the whole sorry mess would have been over, but it did not. Rasmussen asked Boatman after a very long moment of silence if he’d thrown something at him. Boatman said no, no, he hadn’t thrown it at him, man. Rasmussen said he was quite sure that Boatman had done exactly that. No, pled Boatman. Come on, man.

Then they tear up and I laugh in identification with the friend/boss//dude fight.

I was less onboard with this character who delivers big, insane, irritating chunks of dialogue that I know someone might actually say but still seem incredible. Mostly they fall just on the right side of working, maybe because he appears during a professional conference that’s surreal to start with. “I Am Death” (of the much better title) also has one of these people. I don’t know what that’s about. Nor do I know what “I Am Death” is about in general, which I mean in the most literal, non-snotty way possible. It had a few cool moments in it. It left me befuddled.

The Invention of Everything Else is up next. I’ve gotten as far as taking it out of the library, but don’t anticipate actually reading it for a bit. (Which sounds so dickish! There are lots of copies.)


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