Personal Days

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

Ed Park’s whodunit-cum-office-horror-show romp shimmers with menace from page one, when its first-person-collective narrator notes: “It’s possible we can’t stand each other but at this point we’re helpless in the company of outsiders.” There’s something charming about this clutch of colleagues working for the New York branch of an unnamed company—their lingo, booze-fueled wisecracking and workplace crushes. But they’re also angst-ridden, annoyed and on edge, in the midst of a downsizing orgy that’s left a massive wound in their office. No one seems to be able to deduce who’s behind the seemingly random firings (their feckless boss claims ignorance, raising his palms toward the ceiling and crying “hoo hoo” whenever confronted). Granted, these characters lack the morale to do diligent detective work. But after one intrepid sleuth secretly ferrets out revelation after shocking revelation, the story builds to a literally explosive, disaster-movie close.

While Park’s process-of-elimination conceit harks back to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, the former Village Voice editor steers Personal Days’ story into zones of corporate excess no 20th-century author could have imagined. He’s funnier than Christie, and just postmodern enough to know when to switch structural gambits for maximum impact: The book opens with short chapters perfect for reading in fits and starts (say, at your desk), and closes with a long, deliriously claustrophobic, epistolary section that insists on being read in a single sitting. By never identifying the company’s business, Park makes his story one any office drone with a hint of resentment can relate to. This is easily cubicle comedy’s darkest artifact to date, and its most subversive. Only when driven well outside of their careers do the book’s characters fully embrace their lives—or invent new ones.

Park reads May 21.

By Ed Park. Random House, $13 paperback.