A reviewer on Goodreads described Seasonal Associate by Heike Geissler as “dreamy” and that’s pretty much the size of it. A memoir of Geissler’s stint working for Amazon Germany, this book wraps you up in a fog of, well, dreamlike narrative. You can see a few steps ahead of you, but perspective is tough to come by until Geissler hits you with a sudden zoom out.
What I was hoping for when I started it was a poignant statement on the nature of modern work (to which I do not take automatically, myself), and what I got was a stomach-churning slog through the drudgery of dismal, repetitive labor where each day is much the same, where the pay is low, the managers are (often sexist) asshats, and the narrator gets swallowed up inside the mind-numbing work of receiving massive product shipments…which, of course, is itself a statement on the nature of work.
So I guess the book did, in fact, meet my expectations there. It also spurred these thoughts:
- When professional creatives can’t support themselves based solely on the income from their creative work (Geissler is a published novelist, writer, and translator), they often turn to menial labor. Think of all the wait staff/actors, stockists, cashiers. There’s a certain amount of chagrin or shame around this at times. I know I’ve felt it. And yet, all these people are trying to do is pay the rent. Whether they’re able to do that through writing, acting, singing, or taking a job at McDonald’s, there shouldn’t be any shame in it the type of labor required to support yourself in the society you live in (e.g., We live in a society that requires fast food. So there shouldn’t be any shame in being a fast food worker.)
- There’s a certain amount of freedom in taking a job that requires general labor but no real mental or emotional buy-in. This isn’t your real career, so you don’t feel overly invested, evidenced in this memoir by the casual attitude of Geissler’s new work friend who, in response to her boss demanding she be more productive, basically says [I’m paraphrasing], “What do I care about my productivity?” and puts in her headphones while her manager is berating her. Get it, girl.
- Dear god, why is the work required by our society to make it function so effing boring? I mean, sure, some people love their jobs, and some people pursue their passions and make good money doing it. But then there are the people out here entering data and answering phones just trying to pay their rent, hoping for good healthcare, praying to earn enough to send their kids to college…There can’t be dream jobs for all of us, clearly. But I wish the jobs that were available were less mind-numbing. Or if they have to be boring, maybe we could do less of them? Is this making any sense? Maybe I’m just bitching to no effect.
Anyway, all of this builds toward an inevitable end, which I won’t give away here. But the way Geissler leaves Amazon is pretty delightful and the conclusion is poetic justice.
A warning: I had trouble from the beginning with the second-person perspective. You do this. You do that. I get that it’s a device that’s used to put the reader in the position of the narrator, but I found it irritating all the way through.
There is this hilarious moment that results where you’re, as she hopes, picturing yourself as her and Geissler is saying “You do this. You go here. You talk to your boss in this shitty way and really give him the business.” And then she says, “I want to do what you’re doing, but I can’t because I’m not brave enough.” And then she goes back to talking about what she did that day. It’s kind of great.
But most of the time I felt like the second-person perspective either didn’t work as intended or the poignancy got lost in translation (it was written in German and I read the English translation).
Whatever the result, it was fascinating to read a worker’s impressions of a giant like Amazon. I’d love to read a version from a U.S. worker.