Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Working for a Living

At the new Commentary Arts blog, the horizon, Stefan Black makes the following statement:

after Joshua Ferris’s terrific debut of office life, Then We Came to the End, I vowed to read any new fiction that depicts people working at actual jobs. Part of the fun of Richard Ford’s The Lay of the Land, for instance, is that it takes the reader through the ins and outs of real estate, a subject that I never expected to find fascinating. By contrast, Dana Vachon’s debut Mergers & Acquisitions shows people at a job, but not working in any discernible sense. The book might as well be set in a country club.

It’s amazing how greatly a writer benefits from a working knowledge of what people spend most of their time doing


patrick said...

I'm about to start Stewart O'Nan's new book, Last Night at the Lobster, too (Black starts his post with this). O'Nan did a terrific reading from it at Brookline Booksmith a few weeks ago (and wrote A Prayer for the Dying, which was great). I still need to pick up Ferris' book.

Thomas Garvey said...

I couldn't agree with this comment more. Much of what I find fascinating about nineteenth-century writers like Dickens and Trollope (especially Trollope) is how aware they are of the impact of work and money on people's lives and personalities. It's one of the great, vain delusions of the art of the present day that we often delete the specifics of our economic life from our novels and plays. This isn't to say that economics doesn't often figure in our art, just that it's often sketched in rhetorically - either celebrated (think Wolfe) or condemned (think Hare) - but rarely conjured in detail as a specific factor in a specific character's life. Victorian writers (and let's not forget Balzac!) knew much, much better, of course - in fact they could structure whole novels around the entailments of a will, or the eventual allocation of a piece of property. These things still drive our behavior, of course - indeed, our parents' money probably drives our psyches far more than their emotional legacy. But for some reason - perhaps to sustain our cultural dream of perpetual adolescence - we pretend this isn't so.

Mac said...

Fantastic quote, and so important! Writers tend to lean on characters driven by love or sex or money or revenge, and often neglect those who spend most of their days driven by either great interest in their work or desire to survive in their office environments.