A collection of stories about shit jobs; this is a good idea. The intro by one of the editors was very funny, and it’s disappointing he didn’t write more about his shit job experiences. So. To the individual stories.
“All Pretty Sanitary” by Scott S. Phillips. A classic shitty job: garbage man. I mean, it’s what pops into your head first if someone says “shitty job.” And how could that job get worse? This story displays all of Scott’s freaking awesome anecdotal stylin’s, but I wanted more. More! Give me more!! I am a demanding reader.
“Fernando and Yaya” by Nathan Long. Speaking of the anecdotal style, this story is a pretty classic story told over beers, a story in a line of stories told over an evening, smooth and practiced, but not particularly deep. This is not a dis. A friend of mine’s father had this theory that everyone on earth had to hold at least one of four jobs: wait staff, cab driver, *cough cough*, and I can’t remember. You had to be at the lowest for a while, so you would have compassion when you weren’t.
“Hum” by Alex Howerton. It is very, very difficult to write crazy well, especially in the first person. Very difficult. There were flashes here of humor, and the occasional phrase made me sit up. Over all, this was not a success, partially because it was so predictable, and partially because the madness starts too early. Short form crazy may be even harder to pull off, because there’s not enough time to establish sanity and then have it imperceptibly shift. I’m not a clockwatcher though; I don’t do office jobs. Maybe this would work for you poor folk.
“Avian Evisceration Device” by Robert E. Vardeman. Ooo, now this was fun. Light on character, but that’s totally not the point. A Twilight Zone-ish creature feature about the poor assholes who have to clean the dead birds from the wind farm blades. Emphasis on assholes, and birds, not the dead kind.
“Serving Madame” by Scott B. Denning. So far, the standout of this collection. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoilers, but a lovely tale of blood and death and society and…the jobs that society creates when it’s fucked up, and how the fucked up gravitate to those jobs, and are fulfilled. Creeper fiction, sneaking into my brain so days later I’m like, omg, what did you just say?? Very good.
“Another Day, Another Labor” by Brandie Tarvin. Far too on-the-nose for me, or something. A modern recasting of the Labors of Hercules – honestly, I don’t know whether to put this in the spoiler box or not, because it seemed both over-obvious and under-determined. There’s a line between mythic and cliche, and for this reader, it was on the wrong side.
“Brass” by Victor Milan. Soldier-y griping about the brass in an sf environment. The language is snappy sf jargon, a joy to read if you like this sort of thing, but probably just annoying to people who do not like hyper-stylized genre prose. It’s tricky to ask a reader to get invested in all that made up stuff in such a short format, so I stuck to bathing in the alien and not paying much attention, which worked for me. I’m not a big fan of soldier stories, but I am big fan of genre specific stylin’s. So there you go.
“The Day of the Gerbils” by John Jos. Miller. Another anecdote, this one more in the uphill-both-ways vein, but very tight story at that. The narrator – Imma call him John – works at a rat farm in Upstate New York in his youth, mucking cages. Very nice character sketches, and a long denouement that was perfect; how the shit job transmutes into story fodder and a connection with the past. Nice. (But, here’s where I’ll put the complaint about bad formatting in the print edition. Seriously, clean it up for the next run, and I do think this deserves another run.)
“Other People’s Stuff, or A House-sitter’s Progress” by Scott Phillips. God, I loved the narrative distance in this one, a series of titled microfictions chronicling the various homes a house-sitter sits on in her time as a watcher of other people’s stuff. Because of the nature of my work, I spend a lot of time in other people’s houses, and it’s a pretty interesting navigation, how much I see, or choose to ignore, the ways we navigate intrusions on our homes, as both intruder and intruded upon.
If I were going to write something about all the houses I’ve been in, it would be about the pets. Freud’s jibber-jabber about your childhood ain’t got nothing on what animals you choose to live with as a exegesis of your psyche, of a family psyche. My partner once wrote a song about a pug who tried to bite me when he escaped, circled the lawn, and then shat extravagantly in the front yard. “Gus. Gus. Shaped like a bus.” I have learned to love poodles, the standard kind; they are the best dogs ever, despite their cinematic depictions. (I’m working around one now, named Sally, and I love her forever.)
Cats, cats are funny. You only see maybe 25% of them, the others only theoretical. That quarter loves the damn plastic though. There was this one time I worked in a house with cats so evil the woman made me put her number on speed dial. Once, a cleaning lady had been trapped in a closet by the menacing cats, and you can laugh, but I can totally see how that happened. When we went to wash out brushes, down in the basement where the cats were cordoned, one of us stood guard with a broom while the other cleaned. They growled in a freaky Doppler effect the whole time. Yeesh.
Anyways, now I’m just telling my own anecdotes, which is a nice effect of this collection. What was your first job? Your worst job? Your weirdest job? We’ve all had shit jobs, and if we haven’t, we’re probably assholes. The shit job is the human condition, baby.
(And while I did pay for this copy, I know a couple of the authors, fwiw.)