If you worry about losing your job, or if you have lost your job already, you are the perfect person to read Nothing Happens Until It Happens to You, and you are everyone. The book is T.M. Shine’s debut novel, and you might say I’m a fan of his. (Previously here: “T.M. Shine is the new reason to read the Washington Post.”) The novel’s subtitle is “A Novel Without Pay, Perks, or Privileges,” and it’s all about job loss. In a way.
The book is all about job loss in the way that an “all-about” experience when applied to job loss is far closer to nothing than all. Shine has the power — a good lazy fire — to surround a scene, creating a cyclorama of nuanced observation and, more often than not, ridiculousness. One glance across his work shows he can drop a circus tent and sell tickets (he’d probably give them away, to see how people react to an offer of free, off-brand circus passes) wherever he needs to. But in Nothing, he holds back, and the book is more powerful for it. His claims are humble.
He writes about a man who loses his job at a South Florida alt-weekly, that man’s friends, his family, his neighbors, and varied encounters, a palette of shadows in the sunshine. Many moments light and slip away before they can be understood. After losing work, is that nothingness freedom or miasma? I’m still deciding and, like you, worrying. T.M. too. He’s written the novel during his unemployment — and nearly wrote it nonfiction. He’s now blogging at PinkSlipMyAss.com and tweeting.
Shine’s recent Times op-ed: “I’m writing to announce that I’ve officially gone beyond the usual job-loss spectrum of denial to acceptance. I’ve hit a more obscure step, No. 8 or 9, in which you to come to grips with the fact that you can’t stand anybody who is employed.” It’s a quality read. I can’t tell how much he’s joking. Which makes it a great read.
If you’re not sold yet, here’s one of my favorite Nothing passages…
Gillian is sitting cross-legged on the corner of my desk, which is not a surprise. I actually keep the one area clear for her visits, so she’ll always feel welcome. A couple of years back I put out a coffee mug full of Slim Jims in that exact spot and all the employees began coming by to say hi, and make some obligatory small talk. I eventually ran out of meat sticks and that was the end of my massive popularity, except for Gillian. She continues to stop by periodically, sitting on the end of my desk crunching on carrot sticks, guzzling Diet Coke, and basically complaining about her day.
She is so comfortable with her own beauty you almost forget about it. But our art department never does. Whenever they need a model on the cheap for a photo illustration, they turn to Gillian. I think I still have a copy of the special food issue where they have her in thigh-high waders, fly-fishing for Chilean sea bass of a diner’s plate in a crowded dockside restaurant.
“I think my head is going to explode,” she says.
As copy editor Gillian is in charge of correcting all the punctuation and grammatical errors before they go to print, so I immediately try to envision the shrapnel from the blast — commas boomeranging off the walls, asterisks hurtling through the air and cutting our throats like ninja death stars, clouds of periods bursting over our cubicles and unleashing a dark, nasty, prickly rain. And everyone covered in Diet Coke.
Go. I didn’t even quote you the Springsteen part. Go buy the book.