Ed Park's Personal Days: Stifled Lives at the Office

“WHERE DOES THE TIME GO?” wonders one of the white-collar serfs who populate Believer editor Ed Park’s debut novel, Personal Days. “Where does the life go?” In melancholy deadpan, Park narrates the days when “every straw is the last straw” in a company whose boom years are behind it.

The book’s first third unfolds in first-person plural: Park’s “we” comprises a shrinking number of bright young things who have begun to dim, day-jobbers who are no longer sure what dreams their jobs feed. This device (varied slightly in the book’s middle) blurs the characters in the same haze of shame and depression through which they see one another. It’s a dangerous stylistic tack, but Park pulls it off with sharp wordplay and a mind for the absurd. By keeping intimacy at bay early on, he also heightens the pathos of the book’s final third, where — in a leaping epistolary confession, written on a “craptop” without a period key — a single character tells his own story and dignifies the stifled lives of his axed colleagues.

Rebellion in this office goes little further than FedEx-ing office supplies to your home, but a battle cry rings between the lines of Personal Days: an angry defense of language against its murder at corporate hands. Park performs riotous burlesques with e-mail misspellings and corporate clichés; his characters hear double-entendres in computer error messages (“You are almost out of memory”) and invent new words like “deprotion,” for “a promotion that shares most of the hallmarks of a demotion.” The novel may even remind you of Orwell’s Politics and the English Language.

“This is a parody,” Orwell wrote after one of his own savage illustrations, “but not a very gross one.”

PERSONAL DAYS | By ED PARK | Random House | 241 pages | $13 softcover

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