You know, the kind of place that makes you wear a tie and funeral shoes to work even though the only people who see you on a day-to-day basis is your fellow cow-towed and dour co-workers? The kind of place where the managers pace the rows of the cubicle farm making sure your head’s buried in Excel spreadsheets and headset is clamped too tightly to your skull. And God forbid if you’re checking your personal emails during office hours! God help you!
I think in this day and age just about anyone who’s an urban dweller has had to clock in at job like this. Hopefully, if you had sense enough, you only wasted a week or two on such a place before you left the micro-managers and crop-dusting co-workers in a wake of profanity and the smoldering stench of burnt bridges. I, unfortunately, spent six years in such an environment, and I was stupid enough to stick around until they had to drag me out of my box and throw me out onto the street. (Fear of being without medical benefits is a hell of a motivator when you have a young family.)
But for those of you who’ve never had the distinct displeasure of working in the modern equivalent of a salt mine, count yourself lucky, because it’s a crap way to live. But, I will say the environment of the cubicle farm can help inspire some truly rich material for fiction, particularly if you’re a horror or crime writer, particularly revenge stories.
Thomas Ligotti’s short novel, My Work is Not Yet Done, is very much in this milieu, and it being Ligotti, it raises the bar of revenge fantasies by turning its protagonist into a Lovecraftian unknowable.
Frank Dominio is an anxiety driven cubemaster who seems to have spent his entire life driven by routine and the desire to not rock the boat. He gets up, goes to work, eats at the same restaurant every day, goes home, and restlessly goes to bed with thoughts of what dreary tasks he’s forgotten to accomplish that day. Like most Ligotti characters, Frank is almost a non-entity, a face in the crowd and perfectly happy with his station in life. He has achieved a certain level of success with his company, rising to a middle management position and being apart of a group of managers that he has nicknamed the 7 Dwarfs (No, not a very inspired nickname/slight, but then again, Frank in his corporeal form isn’t exactly an inspiring individual.), led by the enigmatic Richard.
Frank briefly forgets his station, creates a new product for the company, and like all good middle managers, brings the idea to his daily managers meeting. The group all feigns disinterest, a few members even going so far as to openly mock the idea, while all of them are secretly drooling over the money making possibilities of the idea.
Things start to quickly go downhill for Frank within the company when he is reassigned to participate in the “restructuring” of the company along with another one of the 7 dwarfs, but instead of returning to his previous assignment as a manager, he’s instead demoted, and placed under a very young, petulant supervisor who almost immediately asks for Franks resignation when a stack of Frank’s work is “misplaced”. Frank knows that his demotion and forced resignation is all a ploy to gain his idea and to quickly shuffle him away so that Richard and the 7 Dwarfs can profit it from it. Frank quickly decides to end Richard and the dwarfs, and visits a gun shop to purchase seven guns and a massive hunting knife—a scene which is probably one of the most surreal of the book—one for each of the dwarves and one can only assume the knife for Ricard, and an office supply store for paper to write his Unabomber style manifesto on why he decided to massacre his co-workers.
As Frank makes his way back home to his dismal apartment to write, he realizes that he’s forgotten something at the office supply and he turns back, the world fades into nothingness and Frank becomes something beyond human.
As with most of his stories, you never really know what to expect when you start reading Ligotti. Yes, you know that the writing will be of exceptional quality and that it will have supernatural bend to it. But with My Work is Not Yet Done, I was honestly surprised by the supernatural element. From sentence one, Ligotti plays the story like it will be nothing more than the breakdown of a little man who flew too close to the sun and becomes enraged that he’s been burned. Frank Dominio is almost entirely unlikable as a narrator. Perhaps ‘unlikable’ is too harsh of a description for Frank, as I’ve mentioned before, he is very much a nonentity, white noise made flesh, at least until he starts to dispatch his co-workers.
For first time readers of Ligotti, My Work is Not Yet Done will make a great jumping off point, because although the premise of a ‘wronged’ employee and ensuing violent rampage may seem to be a rather worn premise, in Ligotti’s hands and his grim, deadpan delivery, it takes on a new life and originality. And as with most Ligotti stories, there is never a happy ending, never a clear resolution of what becomes of Frank other than that only more suffering awaits at the end of his journey.