Home > 2000, 21st Century, American Literature, Beach and Public Transports Books, Corporate Life, Neilan Paul, Novel, TBR20, Translation Tragedy > Sad to be back in the office after the holidays? Have a good laugh with Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan.

Sad to be back in the office after the holidays? Have a good laugh with Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan.

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment Go to comments

Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan. (2006) Not available in French. Translation tragedy. 

When I woke up that Sunday after getting fired Marlene was dead. I was in a salty bed and two detectives were staring down at me. Three hours later I was jerking off in a police station bathroom. It was not the resurrection I’d been hoping for.

Neilan_ApathyIsn’t that a promising setting? Meet Shane a professional drifter who moves around a lot, shies away from responsibilities and roots. He tries to fly under the radar but this time he failed. He’s in custody because a woman, Marlene, is dead and he’s the police’s favorite suspect. He starts recalling the flow of events that brought him there and we’re introduced to a menagerie of characters: Doug, the dentist who faints on his patients while they’re on his chair. Marlene, his deaf assistant who loves karaoke. Gwen who likes rough sex with her boyfriends. The janitor’s wife who needs sex services. The janitor, who needs his wife to be serviced.

And Shane finds himself mixed in their lives. He’s Doug’s patient and befriends Marlene on his frequent trips to the dentist. A former college rugby player, Gwen picks him as a boyfriend and he lets himself be tackled in her rounds of TLC.

“Oh my god, Shane!” she said, and hit me with an open field tackle of a hug that lifted me off my stool and cracked two of my ribs. I saw her coming at the last second and braced myself. Otherwise I would’ve been paralyzed for life.

Since he can’t pay his full rent, the janitor in his apartment complex asks him into shag his wife every Tuesday. Shane doesn’t enjoy it but he complies, gets his a discount on his rent and comments with a deadpan sense of humor.

Still, after a few Tuesdays, just from sheer repetition, the sex had marginally improved. We were still dead fish being swung by an off duty clown, but we weren’t just any kind of fish. And even if we weren’t two majestic salmon, glistening in the sun as we leaped up a waterfall into the mouth of a huge fucking grizzly bear, we were at least tuna. Someone, somewhere would be glad to catch and eat us.

Under Gwen’s recommendation, Shane starts as a temp among the support staff in the insurance company she works for, Panopticon Insurance. Now have you noticed? If a character must have a boring job, they’re either an accountant or work for an insurance company. Imagine what a writer would do with an accountant working for an insurer. Perhaps nothing because their character would be in a boredom-induced coma. Or it would be the ultimate modernist novel. Stream of unconsciousness. Zzzzzzz.

Anyway, back to Shane and his temp job at Panopticon because that’s the funniest part of the novel. His job is to alphabetize contracts but soon he specializes in what we call in French “vertical filing” ie, putting things straight into the trash. So our Shane has a lot of time on his hands and he divides it between making miniature gallows with paper clips and perfecting the art of sleeping in the restrooms.

It was early on, before I knew the physiology of sleeping on a toilet bowl and its effects, and what I needed to do to counteract them: how long to hold on to the quadriplegic bars before trying to walk on my own, how to maximize my momentum without tripping over my dead legs, how to use my lack of balance to my advantage, which I never really figured out. It was all a matter of timing and rhythm, like tap dancing. In those first few days I knew how to shuffle ball step, but I was wearing the wrong shoes.

He makes cutting remarks on Panopticon, the cubicles, the team’s manager Andrew, his colleagues and makes fun of corporate life in general and management techniques in particular.

The boss’s name was Andrew, but he didn’t like the term boss. He referred to himself as the team facilitator.

It is absolutely hilarious, especially when Andrew organizes a “cube warming” party when their department gets a brand new cubicle or when Shane describes Inspiration Alley, the row between the cubicles. It’s covered with inspirational quotes from great leaders to uplift team spirit. As Shane says

If Tolstoy were alive today and working as a temp at Panopticon Insurance, he’d say that all insurance companies are the same, then throw himself through an eighteenth-story window and plunge to his death in a hail of glass and shattered dignity. I worked on the eighteenth floor, but the windows were too thick.

Shane’s professional wanker. Apathy is his way-of-life, an art-of-life, even. It’s his driving force and nothing can sway him. He’s completely whacked and he’s one of these characters totally oblivious that something’s seriously wrong with them. But you get to know his brand of crazy around a comment here and there.

He looked at me the way my mom did the time she caught me officiating the wedding of Mr. Potato Head and He-Man. I had just said, “You may kiss the bride,” and when I looked up she was standing in the doorway. I was fourteen years old, and I was not wearing any pants.

He’s fucked-up and can’t help stealing saltshakers wherever he goes:

I was stealing saltshakers again. Ten, sometimes twelve a night, shoving them in my pockets, hiding them up my sleeves, smuggling them out of bars and diners and anywhere else I could find them. In the morning, wherever I woke up, I was always covered in salt. I was cured meat. I had become beef jerky. Even as a small, small child, I knew it would one day come to this.

(Btw, if you ever want to get rid of a French guest: serve them beef jerky with root beer and Jello as a dessert. They’ll run away quickly.)

Being in Shane’s head is fun. He might be totally immature and crazy but he makes spot on observations about humans. I chuckled, laughed out loud at his outrageous comments. The scenes in Doug’s office are hilarious. The corporate part put me in stitches. The story comes together in the end, the reader gets the whole picture and sees how fate framed Shane.

I loved everything in Apathy and Other Small Victories. The crazy plot. The amazing characters. Neilan’s punchy style and impeccable sense of humor. It’s going to be on my best-of-the-year list, I’m sure.

I read this thanks to Guy, who picked it after Max Barry mentioned it as a fantastic read. Check out Guy’s review here. Highly recommended in case of depressing weather, hard times at work, dire need of a good laugh.

 

  1. September 5, 2016 at 1:53 am

    As you probably guessed, I loved this too, and it still ranks as one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. Unfortunately the author seems to have dropped off of the publishing radar. What a shame.

    Like

    • September 5, 2016 at 7:52 am

      I loved it too and it’s a pity there aren’t any other books by him.

      Like

      • September 5, 2016 at 5:11 pm

        I have a sinking feeling that he’s working in a cubicle somewhere…

        Like

        • September 5, 2016 at 9:25 pm

          I hope not.

          Like

          • September 5, 2016 at 10:23 pm

            It’s a shame that someone who has such great comedic talent doesn’t follow up with a second book.

            Like

  2. September 5, 2016 at 7:32 am

    Sounds like exactly the kind of book I need at the present time…

    Like

    • September 5, 2016 at 7:51 am

      It’s short and so funny. Shane makes all sorts of random hilarious comments

      Like

  3. September 5, 2016 at 8:43 am

    It sounds like a lot of fun. I love that quote about Tolstoy. It almost sounds Woody Allen-ish, like that line from Hannah and Her Sisters where the Max von Sydow character is talking about modern culture: “If Jesus came back and saw what was being done in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.”

    I was going to ask where you found it, but your closing comments clear that up – great billet!

    Like

    • September 5, 2016 at 9:27 pm

      It is really a lot of fun. And the reference to Woody Allen is a good one.

      Like

  4. September 5, 2016 at 3:37 pm

    Great commentary as always Emma.

    This sounds very good.

    Apathy is an interesting character trait. Though it can be approached humorously, examining it in literature can tell us a lot about human nature.

    Like

    • September 5, 2016 at 9:28 pm

      Shane just goes with the flow and he’s not really interested in life and other people. Gwen hopes that his job at Panopticon will help him find a meaning to his life. He just wants to get by and have a pay check.

      Like

  5. September 6, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    I can see the Max Barry link. A shame as you say that the author didn’t get to do more. It does sound rather Woody Allenish, particularly with the sex comedy elements somehow.

    Like

    • September 10, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      There’s some Max Barry, some Woody Allen and probably some John Kennedy Toole for the delusional loser part.

      Like

  1. November 29, 2016 at 1:13 am
  2. January 7, 2017 at 7:13 pm

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