Richard Russo is the author of That Old Cape Magic.hide caption
Richard Russo is the author of That Old Cape Magic.
Richard Russo On Writing About The Office
Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Richard Russo isn't an office-type guy. He remembers having coffee with his wife over South Station in Boston, watching the masses stream into the tall office buildings on their way to work and thinking, "that's my idea of hell."
Still, as Russo tells Steve Inskeep, even if he can't imagine punching a clock in an office, he doesn't mind reading about the 9-to-5 grind. Below are a few of his favorite literary portrayals of the workplace.
Joshua Ferris' novel centers on an ad agency where copyeditors and artists bitterly complain about their jobs, claiming that their employment is somehow keeping them from being better. Each has an ambition: one is a failed novelist, another, a painter. But when an economic downturn means layoffs, they discover an ironic truth: Though they hate their jobs, they are terrified of losing them.
Russo says: It's a study of "the way offices skew important things and inconsequential things. ... Anything that's totally inconsequential in an office gets completely bent out of shape and it becomes of tremendous importance."
Personal Days, by Ed Park
Personal Days follows a character named Jill who, before being fired, is exiled to a top floor in her building to work alone. With no visitors — her colleagues are ashamed to visit — she believes herself to be going mad. In her complete isolation, Jill writes a work of fiction.
Russo says: "Despite it's hilarity and satire, [Personal Days] also has a little bit of a mystery."
The marital struggles of Frank and April Wheeler play out amidst a backdrop of workplace and suburban angst. Frank observes the crowds on the commuter train with a mocking detachment, not truly acknowledging that he is one of them.
Russo says: "The office of Richard Yates is where dreams go to die — that and suburbia."
Bartleby, the Scrivener, by Herman Melville
Bartleby reproduces documents flawlessly and works hours and hours on end. His supervisors have just one problem with him: When asked to become part of a team, Bartleby responds, "I would prefer not to."
Russo says: "The question becomes: What happens in an office when you have an individual who would prefer not to? What if there isn't, really, a shared sense of purpose?"