Bookthug’s Spring Fiction Preview continues with Malcolm Sutton, a Toronto-based artist, writer and Bookthug’s very own fiction editor, and his debut novel Job Shadowing. A 49th Shelf Most Anticipated Spring 2016 Fiction Selection, Job Shadowing invites readers on an original and fantastical journey through the perils of modern employment, across the self-consciousness of the echo generation, and aboard the deck of billionaire’s superyacht.
“What do you do?” It’s often the first question we ask when we meet someone new. It is a question that assumes an intimate link between someone’s work and his/her identity. Sutton’s Job Shadowing takes this assumption to its extreme, imagining situations in which the distinction between the work and the worker becomes as inseparable as a body and its shadow.
Job Shadowing follows the interconnected stories of Etti and Gil, a married couple who are drifting apart and are caught in the limbo of tenuous employment. In their search for renewed purpose through work, Etti and Gil’s paths diverge in unexpected directions.
Gil, who is prone to speculation and reveries, chances one day upon a job shadowing recruitment program that turns applicants into the actual shadows of their human counterparts. Gil signs up, and before long he becomes the literal shadow of Victoria, an aspiring millennial. As her shadow, Gil shares everything with Victoria—from her career aspirations and anxieties to her daily routines—but before long, Victoria finds Gil’s shadow-presence invasive and seeks to remove him.
Meanwhile, Etti, an artist, struggles to secure funding for her next artistic project. Her search leads her to Caslon, an ultra-wealthy billionaire eccentric who commissions Etti to write his memoirs. Etti flies to Finland to meet Caslon, who spends his days in recluse aboard his superyacht Nancy. As Caslon’s true intentions remain elusive, Etti is drawn deeper into Caslon’s fantastically lavish world, shadowing him and creating a living record of his life.
Alongside the wondrous exploits, Job Shadowing is grounded in the search for the spirit of contemporary culture. What does it mean to exist between the vibrance of the Baby-Boom generation, epitomized by Woodstock and the moon landing, and Millennials who have never experience a world without the internet? Sutton explores to the purgatory of the Echo generation as one in search of its spirit, of its zeitgeist, occupying the nebulous shadow space between illuminated epochs.
Praise for Job Shadowing:
“Job Shadowing is a work of pure, energizing imagination that speaks directly to our times. As we hang on through each plausible yet impossible turn, the parallel worlds Malcolm Sutton effortlessly creates pull us ever closer to the underlying currents and desires that make the personal political, then twist back around to become deeply personal once again. A book for our shadow-generation and, at the same time, a work of literature that just might subtly help us break free.” —Jacob Wren, author of Polyamorous Love Song and Rich and Poor
“A young married couple each experiences the phenomenon of union – on different continents, across gender and class – and the impossibility of reunion after their duplicitous adventures. A smooth art thriller in the tradition of Bolaño, Job Shadowingmeddles with corporate culture, dying domesticity and the living, breathing life of the alienated worker. Malcolm Sutton’s work is stimulating and stand-alone.” —Tamara Faith Berger, Believer Book Award–winning author of Maidenhead
Excerpt from Job Shadowing:
The last time she was with F in person was at a big fundraising gala, where a selection of artists were invited to come for free, as attractions of the night – and in one sense they were the whole pretext for the event – while the rest paid at a fundraiser’s rate: philanthropists or people who identified themselves with an idea of art viewership and who were desirous to be part of it all. Etti was surprised she’d been invited, and perhaps only when an occasion like this gala came up did she consider what her ranking was among other artists of the city. The pedagogy of her work required time to explain, as did its eventness, that it happened in time and space collaboratively, making it an effort to describe what it looked like, which was at the heart of what people almost always wanted to know. She had been at it for long enough that it was just what she did, it was an extension of her, and others who had followed her work over the years saw a new project just as the next iteration of a series of similar works, one more of her experiments with adolescents doing group work in strange places, or so she likely thought as she glanced around at the big players in the art world who were being celebrated. Her dear friend, standing right beside her, had recently entered the art-world limelight, her name ballooning from the excavations she had made of her ever-more-public sex-life, presenting her findings in a collision of mediums, often everyday objects from her life treated with a jarring arrangement, a crystal-clear reality, smart work propelled to the foreground because sex is always foreground, but also because her variety of honest excavation slipped in amid a present zeitgeist. The work was unadorned and unsentimental except where sentimentality enabled a sense of vulnerability to come through. People were taking it seriously, people were taking F very seriously, and among those doing the vulnerable open sex thing F had risen into visibility while some had remained obscure. Even Etti was likely taking it more seriously now that the timing was right, now that it had become part of what really felt like a historical moment. Somehow its coincidence with the energy of the moment overshadowed all the flaws of the work that might still have remained there. All this to the degree that Etti was starting to think that she herself needed to do more to embrace the current zeitgeist in her own work.
Now they were drinking shoulder to shoulder, tall, thin, attractive in the eyes of benefactors, taking in the people whom they’d never seen before. They talked about feeling like curiosities on display, but also enjoyed the low-level stardom occasions of real money conferred to those typically not looking for it. How fucked up it all was but how that was part of it, and how delving into its fucked-upness gave them a little charge. A photographer came around and told them to stand close to each other, and they already were, their shoulders touching, and he wanted them even closer. He squatted and then got up and firmly pressed them together with his hands, camera dangling from his neck, before returning to his photographer’s stance. Etti stared blankly at the camera and F continued talking while his flash went off in a few rapid white bursts, and he moved on to another cluster of people. Perhaps because it was integral to her work, and perhaps because she enjoyed dressing up and going out, F attended more parties than Etti. Perhaps because she had had a succession of short-term relationships, and in that sense had few commitments, and so was always thinking of the next one, the next art party, whereas Etti had been with Gil for quite some time. And it was from this party experience, Etti supposes, thinking about it on the breezy deck of the superyacht Nancy, that F determined she needed to set a goal for every night she went out to one. It took me so long to figure this out, F had said to Etti that night at the contemporary art fundraising ball. I must have been to hundreds of parties, starting in art school, one after the next. Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays. Some were superfun. We go to parties because we want to be among certain people, after all, so it’s natural to be part of that. But then I aged and got tired of them. At some point I looked back at myself at these parties and felt my heart drop. All the parties all the way back to art school. The accumulated effect on me was that parties started having this bad relationship to time. I felt I was wasting time. I can’t believe how long it took me to realize this. I mean, it’s not that I never felt that I was wasting time before, F had said, it’s just that I had been able to blindly disregard it because I was so caught up in the present. I had ignored the boredom of parties, which surely was one of their main qualities. I had said to myself there is no such thing as wasting time because that’s what I’d learned in art school. Wasting time is a truism born from capitalism – that was what art school taught us, and the right response was to resist it by not buying into it. But then I realized there was such a thing as wasting time. Since we are stuck in capitalism there is such a thing as wasting time. That is what I realized. So I finally decided, you know, Etti – and Etti wanted to know – I finally decided I needed a goal. Being at parties, merely being present, though essential to my work as an artist, was not enough. I needed a clear focal point that I could aim for over the course of the evening. Even if the evening meant going from one place to another, one opening to another, I needed that visible point. In a sense I needed to imagine a possibility in the party that wasn’t otherwise obvious. I needed to speculate on a golden potential that was hidden in the near-future of the party. And in that way I got much deeper into parties.
Upcoming Launch Events for Job Shadowing:
Friday April 8, 2016
Sector 2237 Art Gallery presents a reading with Joni Murphy (Double Teenage) and Malcolm Sutton (Job Shadowing).
Reading with: Popahna Brandes
Where: Sector 2237 Gallery (2337 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL)
Time: Doors 6:30. Readings 7:00-9:00 pm
For more info visit http://sector2337.com/#pophana-brandes-joni-murphy-malcolm-sutton
Thursday April 21, 2016
BookThug’s Spring 2016 Book Launch and Party featuring readings by Malcolm Sutton, Jacob Wren, Joni Murphy, Margaret Christakos, Adrienne Gruber, Jennifer Zilm, François Turcot, Stephen Thomas and Alessandro Porco.
Where: The Garrison
Address: 1197 Dundas Street W.
Time: Doors 7:00 pm. Readings 8:00 pm
Free. All are welcome.
For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/events/963066693777595/
Thursday April 28, 2016
BookThug and Librairie Drawn and Quarterly present a Spring Fiction Launch for Malcolm Sutton (Job Shadowing), Jacob Wren (Rich and Poor), Joni Murphy (Double Teenage) and Stephen Thomas (The Jokes)
Where: Librairie Drawn and Quarterly (211 Bernard Ouest, Montreal, QC)
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm
Free. All are welcome.
For more info visit https://www.facebook.com/events/1076916048996409/
Tuesday May 3, 2016
Toronto Book Launch for Job Shadowing by Malcolm Sutton
Where: Type Books (883 Queen Street W., Toronto, ON)
Time: 7:00-9:00 pm
More info coming soon.
Malcolm Sutton lives in Toronto. His fiction has appeared in Maisonneuve and Joyland, and his writing on art has appeared in C Magazine and Border Crossings. He is the Founding Editor of The Coming Envelope journal of innovative prose, and the Fiction Editor at BookThug Press. Job Shadowing is his debut novel. Learn more at https://malcolmsutton.wordpress.com/writing/.