Personal Days by Ed Park
Let me cut to the chase: this is a book worth borrowing. There, I said it. Not worth buying, probably, unless you know Ed Park personally or see his book on a bargain shelf somewhere. Or, I suppose, if you work in an office currently experiencing layoffs…
…which is, I guess, a significant number of Americans today, so maybe more people will be buying this book than I thought. Personal Days tells the story of a typical American office, the denizens of which are watching their coworkers be eliminated, one by one.
We never find out the identity of the elusive first person plural narrator in the beginning of the novel; nor do we ever find out the name of the company or what, exactly, it does (besides lay off its employees). We also never reach closure on a certain employee who writes an extraordinarily long e-mail to a former coworker from inside an elevator. Being a person who enjoys closure in most novels, you can imagine how the non-ending went over with me. (Hint: Not well.)
There are a few clever things that Ed Park does that I feel the need to point out, if only because he’s a fellow former Buffalonian and I feel bad about not having enjoyed his book more. First, he does a great job of capturing the mundane details of a day at the office, while making each detail poignant and meaningful. One character’s inability to properly format her resume brilliantly foreshadows future events, and minutiae like one character growing a beard turn out to be terribly important later.
Second, I like how the second section is formatted. The New York Times calls it the formatting of a contract or legal document; I thought of it as a uber-organized outline. Though I’m certain Park intended it to be contract-like, and that certainly makes more sense, I enjoyed this technique nonetheless.
Third and last, this book is remarkably current. With so many people out of work or worrying about being out of work, Personal Days might remind those of us suffering in this economy that we are not alone. So by all means, go ahead and borrow this book — hey, if you’re unemployed, saving the $13.00 at which this book retails is reason enough to check the library first.