Apr 24, 2009

Monkey Droppings - Overqualifed by Joey Comeau

In today's exciting episode of the barely-coherent ramblings of a primate with delusions of being human (or at least, a critic), we present:

by Joey Comeau
Dear RAND,

I am writing to apply for a job with the RAND Corporation. The first time I heard of the RAND Corporation was on The X-Files, the conspiracy-theory-heavy television show I was obsessed with in high school. I watched every episode. That was the beginning of my paranoia, my belief that there are huge corporations behind everything. That everything that happens in the world happens for a reason.
If there exists a more tedious, exhausting, frustrating experience than the writing and rewriting of your resume and cover letter, I haven't found it. Hours of your life can be spent poring over every little detail, trying to tickle out every nugget of experience from your meagre employment background, not to mention editing for spelling and grammar. You find yourself re-evaluating the entirety of your life over a few pages of bullet points and half-hearted exaggerations. It's the creation of mountains from something less than molehills, and there is not one sane person alive who enjoys the experience. And reading them? Feh. Almost as bad.

So let's give Canadian author Joey Comeau this much credit: he's made the writing of cover letters seem like a pleasure. More importantly, he's made the reading of said letters a joy. And in the process, he's provided an epistolary novel that surprises, moves, and makes one chuckle incessantly on the plane ride home. OK, that's a personal experience, but you get the gist: Overqualified is one gem of a read.

Overqualified is, quite simply, a series of letters, but Overqualified is not the usual epistolary novel where the writer pens notes to A or B, and possibly A or B responds. Overqualified follows the format of cover letters written to companies such as Apple, Bell, and Nintendo. Rather than simply listing his qualifications with the use of artful euphemisms, the job-seeker Joey Comeau decides to use the letters a launching point for family anecdotes, bizarre jokes, and a very real sense of personal tragedy. When Comeau, applying to be a bicycle tour guide, outlines a sample tour with the narration, "Coming up on the left, we find the bakery where my very first girlfriend works...When we were fourteen, we both got really drunk and had sex," there are true inklings that not all is well in Comeau's world.

Comeau, best known for his surreal web comic a softer world, crafts his letters into an nonlinear diary of sorts, and an abiding sense of melancholy begins to creep into the missives. His letters run the gamut of topics, from personal reminiscences to dreams to sexual fantasies to musings on the state of humanity. There is no plot per se, but as readers make their way through Comeau's slim-but-hardly-slight volume, an unflinching honesty concerning the state of the narrator's world comes into focus. Comeau the author may be just fine (who's to say?), but Comeau the job hunter is in serious disarray.

Overqualified is a hard novel to categorize; is it a memoir? An exercise in form and style? A joke? Probably all, and then some. What I can definitely categorize Overqualified as is a book of humour laced with despair, truly original, and a pleasure to read.



Remi said...

This one's been on my bedside table for a little while. I read Leanne Shapton's "Important Artifacts and Personal Property. . . " a while ago. That book is a novel in the form of an auction catalogue. I figured a novel in the form of cover letters would be an interesting contrast - see how two writers wage war against the traditional novel. Then I didn't get around to it. Now I think I will.

John Mutford said...

A book of cover letters? What a wonderfully bizarre idea.

Congrats on making it 13 in the Canadian Book Challenge, by the way.

Wanda said...

Let's hope Mr. Comeau isn't watching Fringe!

Corey said...

I have no idea what that means.

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