Friday, April 27, 2007

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming

Getting back to it.

Ferris, the author of the current talk-of-the-literati workplace novel Then We Came to the End, gets in some good observations. You might almost consider this a commentary track for his book:
Work, then - broadly defined - is central to literature. Don Quixote goes headlong into the windmill - what is the noble fool doing but his misguided work? Work puts Ishmael on the Pequod. Work brings Esther to Bleak House and sends Humbert Humbert to the house on Lawn Street. Work defines the plot and central moral conceit of Ian McEwan's Saturday. Work as wayward scientific inquiry prompts Tyrone Slothrop's erections during the Blitz and forces him out into the Zone in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, while work as blind loyalty reveals the trouble with blind loyalty in Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day. These examples highlight how vocation in literature is never happenstance, never half-hearted decision-making, but artfully premeditated and always purposeful. Work does work in every great book - even if just to allow the characters enough leisure time to pursue the main drama.

As strategically and thematically smart as Fitzgerald is when assigning vocations to his characters - vocations that aid and abet by professional title the novel's personal drama - he nevertheless keeps work-related matters topical. It is the nature of the work, not the work itself, that informs. A different story arises when a writer chooses to go deeper into work, to turn work into one of literature's main characters.

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