Thirty-something advertising copywriter Joe doesn’t even realize something is wrong until he unwittingly turns his own professional expertise to perverse advantage on his own personal meltdown. Inexplicably disillusioned and disaffected with a career, lifestyle and life that many might find enviable, at least on the surface, Joe simply stops living that life one day and parks himself on his Manhattan stoop to wait for the Man to signal what he should do next. Who is the Man? Each reader who follows Joe’s journey in Waiting For the Man by Arjun Basu is likely to have a different answer.
Joe’s decision to wait for the Man to direct Joe’s next steps can be interpreted many ways. Is Joe paralyzed by depression, truly experiencing something otherworldly and transcendent … or what? Whatever the answer, it almost seems incidental in Basu’s pithy handling (honed by the social media equivalent of an eternity crafting striking one-tweet short stories called Twisters) of Joe’s clinical reaction to his own crisis, as he plays willing party to turning that crisis into a branding and social media event of some magnitude.
As that event starts getting out of hand, Joe perhaps conveniently discerns the signal he needs to depart. The journey commences, replete with pursuing media and copious junk food – rather reminiscent of some of the adventures of a notorious big city mayor we’re all too familiar with these days. Joe’s journey, however, even includes some meaningful if fleeting human connections – connections with people more endearingly and sympathetically sketched than Joe himself. Joe arrives at what is presumably the polar opposite of his slick, fast-paced Manhattan life, a remote ranch/resort in Montana.
Or has Joe really found the dramatic change of scenery that is supposed to symbolize the significant … whatever … it is he’s seeking or craving? For a time at least, Joe works with his hands – peeling apples in the resort kitchen – rather than his head. That sojourn from his own fevered brain is short-lived, though, and it turns out the Montana ranch is as much in perceived need of branding – you know, to take the place to the next level – as any of the products for which Joe built identities when he was thriving, however shallowly, in Manhattan. While a dire turn of events for Joe’s search for whatever he’s searching for, it’s a great satirical turn in the novel.
It’s a wonderful and fortuitous coincidence that this reviewer came to be reading Waiting for the Man one day while listening to a radio in the background tuned to popular CBC Radio program Terry O’Reilly’s Under the Influence. Much of O’Reilly’s examination of the mechanics of how modern advertising and branding works, and how those mechanics sink their talons into consumers’ emotions and psyches, is in glorious play in Joe’s musings.
You’d be hard pressed to pick one @arjunbasu Twister as the best of them all (although the recent “We’d been to karaoke the night before I lost my job. Was it my singing? Or maybe the gun I’d found. In my boss’s purse. On my bedroom floor.” is a zinger). Similarly, it’s nigh impossible to pull a definitive quote from what is the most compelling aspect of Waiting For the Man – its entrancingly paced and parsed words. The book is rich with well-crafted sentences that have benefited from the rigour with which Basu creates his tweet-length stories. There is a tight, potent economy of expression throughout.
But are you going to feel a connection to Joe? Is it even critical to feel that to derive measures of satisfaction and meaning from Waiting for the Man? This reviewer is not dismissing the main character because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and perhaps unbelievable – rather, very much crediting him because he’s slightly off-putting, suspect and decidedly believable. He’s us, desensitized by and rendered somewhat helpless under the cloud of branding and digital everything under which we live these days. He’s not quite the cipher of Chance the Gardener from the Jerzy Kosinski novel and movie Being There, but Joe is someone onto whom we can to some extent imprint our own disillusionment and dysphoria.
There’s this …
Deep in my heart I was doubting myself completely, but I could not bring myself to admit this. I could admit that the trip was a cheap spectacle cooked up by the media to fill some minutes during the summer’s newcasts. To Dan, the prize came at the conclusion of the journey. The event only had purpose at its conclusion. To me, this ordeal was a path to the start of a new journey. A new life. That’s what I had hoped.
… but then, right at the end, there’s this …
I may have felt freedom. I’m not sure.
Oh, Joe is us all right. He’s irritating and his fate is inconclusive, but we can totally relate.
Learn more about Waiting for the Man, by Arjun Basu
Waiting for the Man in ECW Press book catalogue, including excerpt
Waiting for the Man book trailer
Book Review | Waiting For The Man by Arjun Basu
reviewed by Lynne for Words of Mystery
Joe is just your average guy who like several people feels overworked and burned out. One night he has a dream of a man who tells him that he is waiting for him, and it is that one thing that causes him to leave his job and home in search of this mysterious man. What follows is more than just a story of one man’s journey …
Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man (2014)
reviewed in Buried In Print
“We crave narrative,” Joe tells us.
And the Reader who picks up Arjun Basu’s Waiting for the Man nods: a narrative craver.
Waiting for the Man – Interview with Author Arjun Basu
by Katherine Krige for A New Day
Joe is a cynic and his journey isn’t easy. For one, there is a mini van. And lots of bad pizza. Showers and sleep are minimal … Sounds like the making of any great adventure, right?
Review: Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
by Alessandra in The Book Stylist
Joe’s journey is a mental one, where he establishes an acute and cynical awareness about the world we live in, a world that is pockmarked in ruts and rigged like bear traps for the unsuspecting.
Waiting For The Man – Arjun Basu – Review AND Giveaway
by Luanne in A Bookworm’s World
Basu has crafted an unsettling, thought provoking first novel, one sure to leave you taking a second look at many aspects of our society and our own lives.
Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu
reviewed by Heather Cromarty for Quill & Quire
At an historical moment when everyone demands to be perceived as special and kids grow up wanting only to be famous, Montreal writer Arjun Basu’s debut novel ponders the possibility of escaping the ennui of modern life, where the safe, corporate dream jobs of our parents don’t offer the expected fulfillment.
Thank you to ECW Press for providing a review copy of Waiting for the Man by Arjun Basu.