“The gods created the First Temporary so they could take a break.”
Temporary is a wonderfully bizarre novel. Readers who prefer to read stories that are grounded in reality or that are ruled by logic and reason may be better off steering clear from the sheer absurdity that is Temporary.
“She noted the fallacy of permanence in a world where everything ends and desired that kind of permanence all the same.”
Within this novel Hilary Leichter takes to the extreme the role of a temporary worker and the world which she writes of only vaguely resemble our own. In her hyperbolic vision of a capitalistic society generations of temporaries spend their lives in pursuit of ‘the steadiness’ (gainful employment/permanency) The temporary positions which one can be assigned to have a Kafkaesque quality to them: opening and closing doors in a house, filling in for a parrot on a pirate ship, assisting a murderer, working as a body scanner that detects emotion, pushing random buttons…each temporary role is dictated by arbitrary rules and nonsensical tasks, or characterised by confounding hierarchies and even sexual harassment.
The narrator, like her mother and her grandmother before her, goes from temporary position to temporary position with an upbeat can-do attitude. To ‘work’, to do her job, is everything to her, regardless of what the job actually entails. She has several boyfriends, whom she distinguishes by referring to their physical attributes, such as ‘the tall boyfriend’, or their profession, such as ‘the culinary boyfriend, rather than their names.
Throughout the course of the narrative the narrator finds herself doing increasingly outlandish gigs.
The story is ridiculous, and so are the characters and their interactions. But it is also hilariously absurd. Having worked as a temp, and being too aware of the way in which temporary workers are often regarded as little more than disposable cutlery, I deeply enjoyed Leichter’s critique of modern society, particularly the gig economy.
The effervescent writing style brought to mind novels by Japanese authors such as Yōko Ogawa, Sayaka Murata, and Hiromi Kawakami while the protagonist’s fanciful narration, as well as the peculiar people she encounters, echoed Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Temporary is just endearingly unapologetic in its weirdness.
“We drink some water side by side, our bodies full of fluids, of blood and acid and methods of hydration, caffeination, intoxication.”
Through addition of purply metaphors, frequent rapid-firing of words (so that phrases seem to have been breathlessly blurted out), and ping-pong dialogues, Leichter’s magnifies the weird atmosphere of her story.
“What were you thinking?”
“I was just thinking differently.”
“Who said you get to think differently?”
Underneath this novel’s layer of surreality lies an all too relevant tale. Clever, funny, nonsensical, Leichter’s debut novel is a fable for the modern age.
My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars