OK, who is Ed Park, anyway?
The author of the Burchfield Penney Art Center’s August 5th Book Club selection Personal Days. In addition to his own writing, Buffalo-born Ed Park has held rather sparkling and esteemed executive editing positions at Penguin Press, Amazon, and the Poetry Foundation.
But who is Ed Park?
There’s a hint at his hidden autobiographical past in Personal Days (so convincing that we assume some reality in the prose) where a first-person narrator works at a big city office doing who knows what for whom.
The narrator is surrounded by office drones, weaklings, and nerds who work, sleep, daydream, drink, and share paranoid and salacious email gossip together.
Park nails the 1990s-2000s office culture well, because it’s no different, really than the “Mad Men” offices of the 1950s-1960s, the IBM 1970s, Apple 1980s, Nike 1990s, and today’s endgame office politics everywhere.
It’s the kind of office (in big house publishing or even banking?) where most people are laid off at Christmas so the stock price will jump. Empty cubicles everywhere.
The biggest thing, in Park’s Joycean world of office madness, is, not the product the office creates, manages, processes, distributes, promotes, or destroys. No. The biggest thing is paranoia. Park was compared to Orwell, but that comparison should be to Kafka, for reasons we hope he’ll go into on August 5th with our book club.
Paranoia, as in “Who’s going to be fired next?” That’s what’s on everyone’s mind.
In addition to elusive sexual relations and fleeting obsessions. Laars, Jill, Jenny, Jack II, Jonah, spy/slut/counterspy Maxine and office exec Russell—The Sprout, who has been heard weeping or laughing in his office, alone. Then there are the parent company Californians who may fire everyone, just for fun.
As Kurt Cobain sang, “All in all is all we are.” Or, maybe he was singing, “All alone is what we are.” No one is quite sure. Don DeLillo said, "The American mystery deepens."
And no one is sure of anything in Personal Days other than the fact that the copy machine is failing, how truly icky American bosses are, still, and the horrific office sayings like, “Let’s run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.”
Careers here are all the same. First, the hire, and a good first year. Then the criticism begins, Post-Its are stolen, then the meeting of great praise from The Boss (The Sprout), then the desk shuffle, then the aloneness (well, all of it is aloneness and drunken 2 a.m. emails), the tragic imagined love affair, the drone existence, and the over the phone firing.
You are finally FREE! Then, communications to former coworkers who pretend you don’t exist. Emails unanswered.
Office Birthdays! Forced Fun. Red Shoe Day!
Which is all quite funny. But all too true. Shake your head slowly-type true.
But who is Ed Park?
Certainly, a fine author/editor is in tune with the doomed zeitgeist of office life. In any decade. And office insanity and death.
Nominated for a PEN/Hemingway Award and Time’s top ten fiction books of 2008, Personal Days might remind one of working for a Buffalo advertising agency. But we won’t name Stand Advertising because they are no longer in business anyway.