“Usual” in this caged menagerie of office characters means an urbane, cynical, money-hungry, bored lifestyle. Like any big business environment it can be tough to care about the people populating Business As Usual. It’s author and Blogcritic contributor, David Mazzotta, designed these employees of Can-Am consulting well. The strongest emotion here is detachment, which is a vivid contrast to the David M. Kelley-like layered craziness of the book. The plot of blackmail and embezzlement, relating to an Employee of the Year betting scheme gone wrong, purposefully builds to farce. There are elements that deserve to be embedded in the surface of the Farce Freeway of Fame.
In the novel, we are quickly introduced to an unhappy, tense, rote office environment through the tired, enduring voices of Jim, Jake, Aubrey and others. All feel the same sense of hamster wheeling, but for different reasons. All loathe the leader of the pack, the Decrepitude, but for very similar reasons.
Talking about his customers, Jake the aging “management guru” star of the company, also describes the way all the book’s populous lives:
If any of them had taken the time to think things through they would have realized that all they got for their money were vague suggestions couched in highly imperative rhetoric and supported by whatever prefabricated conclusions could be justified from any actual data they may have had handy.”
If you don’t “buy in” you tune out and stick with middle of the road even as you buy into your own delusion of moneyed success.
Most of the characters by the end of the book realize that despite their clever clothes and smart smirks, they’re really just fiercely disillusioned slackers at heart. Does that make the slackers more enlightened in a “It’s better to have loved …” sense? Mazzotto makes the argument.
Because of an internal loop error of not being able to care, it is hard to read any great truths or import into the book. In other words, so complete is the picture of a typical metro-corporation, its heavy-water humidity sucks out a lot of the energy. Reading the book, you feel silly if you even start to care about anything. Business As Usual is a midnight snack. Not nutritious or filling but the indulgence satisfies for the exact time it takes to consume it. The book does help you believe what is at its storytelling core, that it’s not the destination that matters, it is the witty, jumbled, messy, journey that gets you there.
Looking quickly back, I first felt this review should have been longer, that it should have told more about the thoughts, the voices of each character. Audrey is the Decrepitude’s daughter, a Paris Hilton-like character, but smarter and less spoiled. Jake is successful but the midlife crisis has finally hit him, a decade or so late. Jim is the central character, and he really wants to do nothing more than nothing. And to have sex with Fifi.
But all is written in a way that the sentences need to be read to appreciate the telling of the story, with words that matter. This is a writer who hasn’t forgotten what his last chapter and what he wrote there; he offers an interplay of words and witticisms that enhance the reading.
I marked quite a few passages for later note, to illustrate the power of words, and the skill in which Mazzotta so precisely places them in his tale.
In a chapter about the vacuous yet mysterious and integral John T. Bayer:
“The despicable pile of waste [the Decrepitude] actually thought greatness came from words. Describe yourself as great and wise and it becomes fact.
His hatred spread to cover the universe itself; the relative universe that allowed his words to be reality, that allowed him to be rewarded for his falseness. Words. Well, Jake knew words, too. He was a writer, goddamnit. He knew words were not reality, no matter how firmly you deluded yourself into thinking so.”
” “Michael never exhibited a desire to be castrated,” Jake chose not to say. She was a kind, sweet woman. She didn’t deserve to be subjected to his venom. It was moments like this when Jake was cowed by his own hostility.”
And, from the Decrepitude:
“… I believe they are betting what donut I will eat in the morning. Oh, they hide it well, but I’m not entirely deaf. Especially when it comes to snippets of conversation that contain the words ‘jelly’ or ‘cream-puff.’”
You can see the speeding train crash coming even before the final pages. But after the bumpy ride and near derailment, you welcome the crash as a validation for your own expectations of these characters, and the story in which they play.
And, if the book says nothing else, it’s that we’re all after validation. We all just chose different ways to get it.
Temple’s epilogue: After stowing this book away for a bit, is it any kind of strange that when I find it again, there’s August R. Carlino’s business card between pages 168/169. He’s president and CEO of the Steel Industry Heritage Corporation, and I must have met him, but he is faceless to me now.