A new Friday fugue, running through this month, considering the ways in which our working lives appear on the pages of novels and short stories. The first two weeks appear here and here.)

Tightrope Books, 2011

Tightrope Books, 2011

Kathryn Mockler’s Onion Man (2011)
The first night, time went
by fast because it was new,
but since then, the hours
drag on the way I imagine
seconds do for kittens
drowning in a burlap bag.
When I’m at the factory
everything feels as if it’s
in slow motion, but when
I’m off work time moves
like quicksand.”

Kathryn Mockler presses the monotony of factory work between the pages of Onion Man; every aspect of the job, from the break room-to the line, is presented for the reader’s consideration. The language is suitably ordinary, but the selection of details is remarkable, for the reader truly feels the stifling energy of that long, tedious summer.

Deryn Collier Confined Space

Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2012

Deryn Collier’s Confined Space (2012)
“It was quiet today, Labor Day Monday, but even after only a month on the job, he already had a sense of the familiar rhythm of each machine when it was running – its role, its purpose in the larger system of making beer.”

As attentive to detail as this young brewery worker, Deryn Collier spins a compelling and complex story set in small-town British Columbia.

Evie Chapelle, Bugaboo Brewery’s safety manager, and Bern Fortin, who is adjusting to work as a coroner after work as a commander in the Canadian Forces, strive to unravel the circumstances surrounding a death inside the brewery’s bottle washer.

As with works by Linwood Barclay and Howard Shrier, relationships are key to understanding characters’ motivations; tensions are high, questions are pressing (not only about the crime, but about situations in Evie’s and Bert’s professional and personal lives, past and present), but an understanding of human responses to loss and love leads to credible and complicated resolutions.

Secondary elements of the novel (characters and supporting plots) are just as satisfying as the core mystery, and this ensures that readers who enjoy an ensemble cast and a focus on psychological motivations will return for the series’ second volume. (More on this and Open Secret here.)

Howard Dreaming Digital Age

Bev Editions, 2010

Blanche Howard’s Dreaming in a Digital World (2010)
“A bit of lying is common office procedure Dad. Along with gossip, backstabbing, character assassination, outright thievery, and assorted minor crimes.”

It’s the 1980’s and Genevieve Varley is a computer scientist looking back on a critical period in her life.

Having found herself out of work, she listed the following as essential technological elements for her success: “a cacheable 32MB main memory and a 256KB cache memory, (that was a lot, back then) as well as a few MBs of expanded memory, pentium chip preferably, but at least the Intel 80486”.

But what she needed just as much was the support of another working woman, who recognized that women belonged in the digital age as much as men.

Much like the list of hardware, the novel feels one step removed and while the story takes a fable-like turn (which I liked), it might have found a wider readership if it had drawn parallels with the digital world today (which hasn’t changed as much as Genevieve would have hoped).

Nonetheless, those who first “met” the author via her writing with Carol Shields (their novel and letters), will be pleased to learn that she was still publishing in her 80s.

From factory floor to brewery basement, from writing safety manuals to writing code: these works put readers on the clock.

What works in your TBR stacks have put workplaces on the page?