Personal Days. Ed Park. Fiction
First, let’s talk about this badass cover. LOVE IT. Though it should be noted that my mother couldn’t tell me what the title was…so I guess it depends who your audience is. If it’s me, you’re golden. If it’s my mother, you’re dead in the water.
I really liked this book, though I couldn’t come quite around to love. Park’s book, especially the beginning, has a lot of similarities with Joshua Ferris’ Then We Came To The End, if only because of the first person plural voice that he uses in his first section (and which Ferris uses almost throughout). And I had the same reactions to both of them – I loved the voice – a corporate we – that envelopes both all of the characters and none of the characters – and it worked so well from a humorous standpoint and as a unifying cry (i.e. ‘boy do I know how THAT feels’). However, that same point of view also distanced me and made it impossible for me to really care about the characters. Both books worked better for me as fascinating well written experiments than as engaging emotional tales. The cast of characters in both books is large, and because of the voice (among other things) it’s often hard to tell them apart, which is perhaps done on purpose – when we all work in a cubicle aren’t we all the same worker bee drone? But ultimately I felt held at arm’s length in both books and while it was successful in it’s experimental task, it’s an experiment that left me wanting more.
In Then We Came To The End, Ferris switches his novel’s voice just when I was about fed up with it and used a third person POV for one of the characters much speculated about through the rest of the book as she struggles with illness. It was a brilliant maneuver, and one that saved the book for me personally. But because we had never been with that character until that point, and we never revisited her in that way again it still felt removed and kept me from embracing the book fully.
In Park’s Personal Days, he does a totally different but equally as risky trick in his third and final section. Part three is one massive (40 page plus) email written from one character to another. I’m still on the fence as to how I really feel about it, but regardless of what I decide, it remains a brilliant experiment.
It should also give writers everywhere some hope – since we are constantly told – from readers, agents, editors, and other writers “SHOW DON’T TELL” – that tell can totally work if done effectively. Park’s part three is the definition of tell. One character relaying through email to another character, everything that was under the surface and unsaid in the previous two sections. Brilliant and risky. But I still couldn’t really connect with anyone. And so I remain conflicted.
Parks novel, without a doubt is for anyone that toils (or has toiled) in an office (especially a corporate one) and also for anyone that has faced layoffs (which in this market is just about everyone) so Park’s book should be wildly successful. I think anyone that has worked in an office can thoroughly enjoy this book and relate, and it’s great for a laugh as you recognize yourself and your annoying office and even more annoying co-workers in the pages, but for me at least, it lacks a final ability for me to be able to connect and empathize with the poor souls trapped in the pages. It should be easy to empathize because they’re me, but something doesn’t quite click on that level and so for me it remains mostly a brilliant experiment.
If you want to read a REAL review of Personal Days, check out the New York Times Book Review of it. I remain, as ever, not even close to the level of the NYT. <le sigh> Someday.