REVIEW: Work by Joseph Heller

In brief: Life working at a company in the 1970s is kind of boring, but all-encompassing for Bob Slocum.

The good: Excellent satire.

The not-so-good: Sexist attitudes of the time.

Why I chose it: Another of the Vintage Minis.

Year: 2017 (originally published 1974 from Something Happened)

Pages: 77

Publisher: Vintage (Penguin)

Setting: New York, America

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Getting to know a new author through the Vintage Minis collection is a genius idea. Like everyone else, I’ve heard of Catch-22. Unlike most other people, I haven’t actually read it. A satire about work really appealed to me and gave me a good taste Heller’s cynical wit.

Work is taken from Heller’s novel Something Happened and is about Bob Slocum. Bob is middle aged, bored and desperately wanting to present at the next company conference. His boss doesn’t want him to even though he knows Bob wants it. Why? Because there is a hierarchy at this company and everyone needs to be scared of someone else. Bob analyses his workplace in this fashion, noting the relationships and pecking order. As this is set in the 1970s, there is a fair bit of sexism and racism involved. Women are objects for nothing more than a bit of afternoon delight and the white older man reigns supreme. Bob sees all of this but isn’t really willing to change any of it. Why do anything when he’s just the middle man in middle management?

Heller’s take on office life is sly with wit and the peculiarities of work politics. But Bob knows he is part of the system and willing to work with it, unlike his friend Andy Kagle who worries about work, his superiors and the staff he manages. (Of course, Bob works things to his own advantage). Work is an enjoyable read, but is of course quite dated in some of its ideas. For me, this just added to the satirical effect. I’d certainly go further and read Something Happened based on this and of course, check out Catch-22.

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