Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)'s Reviews > Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch

Russell Wiley Is Out to Lunch by Richard Hine
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Jul 29, 2010

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bookshelves: source-review, source-own, 2010, fiction, theme-humor, f-general

Russell Wiley is facing a crisis - at home and at work. At a time when the newspaper industry is struggling and declining, Russell is working hard to win back contracts and find ways to keep the old customers and bring in new ones. Meanwhile, his boss, Henry Moss is planning for more layoffs and is scheming to prove himself to the big players in the company without any regard to his own boss. Russell's team isn't perfect either, with one manipulative manager, one young intern whose attire is the topic of gossip among his women colleagues, and an over-enthusiastic new hire jumping with utopian ideas for improvement. Into this mess, Henry brings a consultant to find a way to give the company a much-needed growth opportunity. At home, Russell's life has become sexless. His wife is no longer as into him as in the early years of their relationship. And all this is making him think about one of his female colleagues in an inappropriate way.

Russell Wiley is Out to Lunch is set during the years of the decline of the print. While the online media becomes increasingly popular with the young generation, The Chronicle (a fictional newspaper for which Russell works) is clearly not increasing its reader base. I found this a very interesting setting, because I've always wondered how it is to be part of a declining industry - knowing that you could lose your job any time, and even though they know that the trends are changing, they work desperately hard to retain their jobs and clientele. In addition, it was nice to read a book set in the workplace, which although a large part of our lives, doesn't find much of an appreciation in fiction. I felt that this book delivered well on both counts.

In Russell, we have a protagonist that we can root for, though I have to admit that halfway through the book, I got frustrated with him. Every day as he got home, his one obsession was on how to get his wife to have sex with him. I never really saw or felt any bonding between him and his wife, because of which I could not sympathize with his problem. Affecting his credibility further is the inappropriate train of thoughts that keep running through his mind in the presence of his female colleagues. Of course, every married person is not "perfect", but it was very clear to me that Russell was also at fault in his marriage. Of the remaining characters, none of them stood out for me. Sometimes I forgot who was who. This does reflect a typical office environment, where each day you meet a blend of people only briefly, but I still wished that it didn't take me too long to get to know a character well.

In spite of the strong and interesting premise of this book, I felt that it lacked punch and grip. The events take some time to build up and it took me a long time to understand where the book might be heading. In a way, the pace is reflective of the environment where it is set - the most adventurous thing that happens in your typical workday might be you dropping a pen or jamming the paper in the printer or falling asleep at your desk. Otherwise, it is usually a slow monotonous passage of eight hours, during which you keep checking the clock praying for it to move faster, so that you can go home and watch a movie or read a book or play with your kids/pets. The purposeful build-up of the interesting plot-lines however led to a weak ending, in my opinion. There was so much I expected towards the end, and some of what actually happened felt too good or too unreal to be plausible.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has worked in an office environment and loves reading about the workplace politics (in a very loose sense of the word). It is a satirical look at what happens in an office - the challenges, the manipulations, the scheming, and also the male-female colleague interaction - both as colleagues and otherwise. There is quite a bit of humor in the book, but this is strictly not a laughter riot (which is what I expected it to be). Nevertheless, someone with a good knowledge of or interest in a workplace would delight in this novel. This book releases today, so make sure you check it out!
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