I finished this book last night and went to bed, my head filled with about 10 different thoughts on what to say about it. Laugh Out Loud Funny, Thought Provoking in a Sneaky Way, A Mirror Held Up to Current Corporate Culture, “Office Space” For the Discriminate Reader Who Is Snobby About Movies, Passages That Demand to Be Read Out Loud to Whomever was Sitting Near You, and on and on.
I even thought that if I had enough money I would buy the movie rights, if I had enough writing talent I would angle to write the screenplay, and if I had enough publishing power I would market the living daylights out of this book.
As I was drifting off to sleep the hook finally fell – this was Hamlet without the Ghost, Incest, and a Lot of Dead Bodies at the End. Yes, sadly the main characters don’t kill anybody, start wars or want to have sex with their Mothers. And, there is no swordfighting, in a literal sense.
Business as Usual drops into the world of Can-Am, a large corporate consulting firm on the verge of collapse. Jim, the ambivalently ambitious rising star who is still feeling the pull of his “slacker years” (and dating the Senior Partner’s daughter) is drawn into a scheme with Jake, the managing junior partner, respected consultant and published business author, to manipulate the betting on the Employee of the Year award. Sounds simple enough. But, things quickly spiral out of control as the decisions made, or not made in this case, have consequences neither of them contemplated. Never bogging down, the story sweeps us through about a week in the lives of the characters and leaves most of the resolution outside of the end.
Jake is adverse to conflict. He would rather obfuscate the issues and through the confusion act like the problem is solved. Jim, while not afraid of conflict, is content to let things slide to the point that someone else initiates it.
Business as Usual is funny. It’s funny in a laugh out loud way and funny in a biting truth way. For example, this passage on Jake observing his wife during a dinner party:
Marilyn’s looks were maintained only through painful perseverance. An incalculable litany of hairdressers, nutritionists, personal trainers and plastic surgeons had been adopted, then abandoned after a change in fashion or mood. Jake detached his attention from their conversation and turned it, momentarily, to which of her body parts had cost him the most money over the years.
More than anything, Business as Usual is about being and feeling trapped in a world without any real need to exist: consulting.
He could not say at what point he decided it was all crap and if left alone, the pinheads were just as likely to stumble into the right answer as Jake was likely to find it.
Special Note: the corporate memos drafted by Jake sound really familiar and the conversation that occurs between Jake and his wife towards the end is lacerating.
Can you scam your way out of the corporate world and live happily ever after? Do you have to compromise yourself to advance? Is there any value to work if it doesn’t create value? Can you create reality with words? Can you chuck it all and open a bar? Is wishing for death during a meeting really hyperbole? It is feasible to electrocute somone with vase water and a computer terminal?
Business as Usual may not have the answers, but you can at least have fun asking the questions.Powered by Sidelines