They say that time is money and that fiction is time. Does that mean that money is fiction as well? What measures a good book about work? With Halloween upon us, can one imagine a greater work of horror than the collected emails of a corporate fraud artist like Enron’s “Kenny Boy” Lay?
Christine Sneed produces the deliverables with Please Be Advised, a novel written in collected memos. These interoffice communications reflect life, death, and embezzlement in Quest Industries, a Chicago company under audit in the midst of COVID-tide. This narrative of malfeasance is not the book’s focus though. Instead, through the memo as form, Sneed explores the intimacies of working space, the psychological contortions to which we adapt to work at present. With each communication, we recognize the overworked, the upwardly mobile, the generally kind, and the perpetually cruel in the cubicle next door, as well as what is at the point of that blinking cursor, as intended camaraderie shifts into more officious “business communication.”
The tonal play in Sneed’s work reflects the memo’s own inherent challenges. The memo as form—its distant but fully communal pretensions—is critical to Sneed’s purpose. Formally, Please Be Advised transits between the novel’s own intimacy as form and the memo’s distance to great comedy. Practical in focus, but also recognizing the assumed closeness of the memo writer, Sneed maps an organization’s daily life—the essential markings, gossip, and blind alleys of working together. Yet, within its sturdy one-page “box,” the memo’s playful tone shifts. We should work for consensus becomes Does anybody have an f’ing problem with that? Office communications’ inherent flatness emerges in the relation of familial stories, common pasts, and “ex-boy toys” (not “lovers,” which has been rejected by Quest’s executive leadership). Please Be Advised glimmers with that flatness, recognizing that we spend at least as much time in front of our computer screens as we do in more personal encounters, asleep, or on the couch.
In an effort to increase employee morale, water cooler chat is codified within an ongoing series of memos shared by those working in the company, “Stories of Personal Triumph” (tales to which the company, of course, claims all rights). With the force of coffee break intimacy, co-workers share “The Night I Lost My Virginity,” “All You Can Eat Buffet,” and “Scientology Tale.” Honest voices and strumped-up selves echo against resumes and spreadsheets. Here, Sneed explores work as that passive-aggressive space across which some of our most personally defining aspects of our lives are acted out. Every We must confess concludes with that cold, corporate remorse, its voice mired in work’s often “grimy, cold, bottomless well of our collective cynicism.” Reading over the shoulders of Quest employees, we are reminded “Your mother doesn’t work here.”
This novel is also a hell of a lot of fun. Of course, all the greatest hits are here: “Time-Saving Measures,” “But no one will be fired,” “New Policy for In-Office Candy,” and the always classic “Salary Freeze.” Sneed takes pains to detail every corner of organizational narrative post-Tr^mp: the paper trail necessary to execution of any office practical joke, the hovering impact of the IRS audit, and continuous reminders to “stay the course” in spite of impending financial doom. The benefits of filling out the “funwellness survey” are as real as the hummus left in the office floor’s shared refrigerator. Managers detail the FAQs of this year’s Secret Santa exchange. Quest is detailed in “every child brought to work” down to the company president’s mother’s ashes kept sealed in his office fridge. There are donuts and workflow, the dry leftovers of office romance, and all the “symptoms of raging loneliness” glimpsed in windows as the L caterpillars its way through the South Loop.
You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You might even clean that hummus out of the back corner of the office fridge.
Please Be Advised
By Christine Sneed
Published October 18, 2022
Garin Cycholl’s 2022 novel, Rx, is a play on The Confidence-Man, a man practicing medicine without a license in a Dis-united States. His recent work has appeared in The Typescript, ACM, and The Dead Mule of Southern Literature.