Sunday, June 20, 2010

Grant Munroe, "Corporate Park"

Grant Munroe’s “Corporate Park” (One Story 135, May 10, 2010) is built on a clever premise: a cougar has walked into an office building, and it’s mauling the employees. As the grumpy and anal corporate lawyer who narrates the story tells us, the mountain lion produces a “massive reduction in personnel” (12). Blood is spattered everywhere, limbs and moustaches are strewn across the office. This doesn’t spark a frenzy, in part because of the bureaucratic narrator, in part because the company’s executives implement gag policies, boost employee morale, focus on the numbers. The threat of death thus gets its fangs severed and turns into the unfeline threat of downsizing.

The plot has a twist: apparently, many employees use the opportunity to fake their own deaths and thus get a handsome life insurance with which to retire. Halloway, the narrator, a crusader for the corporation’s interests, is unaware of this scheme, and is shocked when he discovers it. Former employees are remaking their lives in more carefree, enjoyable ways. Halloway’s former boss confronts him and asks whether he ever saw the cougar. Halloway shakes his head and shuffles back to the office.

When he does, we think that’s it. But it’s not. Halloway is the only person left in the office—aside from the mountain lion, that is. It turns out there is one, and it lunges for Halloway, who manages to escape into an office and wait. He tries to beckon others to help, but no one notices him. Days pass, food runs out, and he is marooned in the office. The cougar is stalking the door. The story ends.

As I said, a clever premise. The twists are also welcome. However, there was a certain apathy to the narrative—true to the narrator’s character, but still—that made my progress through it duller than it should have been. And, when we get to the ending, it struck me more as a dead end than a clever closure.

The setting of the story deserves a comment. It becomes a sort of fairyland in which everyone pops in and out at the unbelievably right time and place. Halloway’s meeting with Westman, his former boss, is an example. (The names of the company’s executives also seem mythical: Eastman and Westman.) Yes, we could argue in defense of this: it’s about corporations in general, and life in general, and it’s an expressionist take on the corporate jungle (“everyone just assumed there would have been a much sharper distinction between our workplace and the surrounding wilderness” [1]). Still, it bled some of the interest out of the narrative.

The story had some punch, some humor, some ingenuity, and some flair. It could’ve had more of each through further revisions. The interview reveals that the germ of the story actually came from Cortázar’s story “Bestiario.” I should’ve seen that coming. It also shows that “Corporate Park” was typed up quickly, without a clue as to the way it would end.

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