Bad Jobs in CanLit: A List by Grace O'Connell
1. The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood: Think your job is dull? Marian's job has to do with beer and food and is still somehow boring. She writes and edits surveys to measure consumer satisfaction in an office that makes Dunder Mifflin look cosmopolitan, and even has to go door to door asking creepy men how much beer they drink. Between her office happily ascribing to a virgin/whore dichotomy and weirdos pressing temperance brochures into her hands, it's pretty crappy.
2. Microserfs by Douglas Coupland: Sometimes a bad job is a matter of opinion. Some of the characters in Microserfs love their ninety-hour work weeks, some hate them. Desperate for approval from a God-like Bill Gates, one character locks himself in his office, eating only food that can be slipped under the door. Work-life balance is not a popular phrase in this office.
3. Ghosted by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall: Mason writes suicide notes for those who are checking out and lacking in literary skill. But don't worry—his alcoholism and drug addiction will probably cheer him up when he's bummed after work. Or his other terrible job, selling hot dogs on Spadina. At least until he and his girlfriend are pursued by a psychopathic maniac. Altogether, definitely a bad work week.
4. Girl Crazy by Russell Smith: At first glance, Justin's job doesn't seem that terrible, just kind of monotonous, lecturing at a local college in a subject only mildly adjacent to what he actually studied and enjoys. Could be worse, you say? How about a meathead boss who cheats disadvantaged students and threatens and intimidates employees? And a soul crushing administrator who can't ever seem to remember Justin's name?
5. World of Wonders by Robertson Davies: Davies overshot 'bad job' and went straight to 'traumatized and abused travelling circus slave'. But the years of mind numbing repetition and practice made Paul Dempster (aka Faustus Legrand aka Magnus Eisengrim) into the world's greatest magician. The final book of the Fifth Business trilogy, World of Wonders roundly refutes the idea that the CanLit canon isn't insane, funny, violent and bizarre.
6. The Butterfly Plague by Timothy Findley: I guess there isn't a worse job than the one listed above, but being forced to become a Nazi mouthpiece is pretty bad. Professional swimmer Ruth is basically tortured into robotic-level fitness by her insane coach/husband in order to serve as a living illustration of creepy Aryan perfection, and has a pretty understandable nervous breakdown. Nazis, it seems, aren't big on stress-based leave.
7. Heaven is Small by Emily Schultz: Gordon actually has two bad jobs: one before he dies and one after. Before he dies, he works at Whoopsy's Gags and Gifts, where he stood behind the counter "soberly name-tagged, hair and patience thinning." After death, he secures a job at the Heaven Book Company, which promises an eternity of monotony.
8. Pulpy and Midge by Jessica Westhead: Sometimes a bad job is more of a case of bad boss. Pulpy and his wife Midge have a sweet, quiet life until Pulpy's boss retires and is replaced by synergy-obsessed, crushing-handshake-wielding, downright creeptastic Dan. Pulpy's promised promotion evaporates and Dan's quest for Pulpy's friendship lands somewhere between obsession and social cannibalism.
Grace O'Connell holds an MFA in Creativing Writing. Her work has appeared in various publications including The Walrus, Taddle Creek, Quill & Quire and EYE Weekly. She has taught creative writing at George Brown College and now works as a freelance writer and editor in Toronto. She is Knopf's New Face of Fiction for 2012, and her first novel Magnified World is out now.