We spend the majority of our waking hours at our place of work: some eight hours, five days a week with people we wouldn’t willingly choose to be around. It can feel impossible to describe how weird, wonderful or disturbing these hours are to the people outside of them. Sarah Royal attempts to do just this in her chapbook The Book Bindery. Bizarre characters reveal themselves and unimaginable things emerge from people’s mouths, all capturing the crazy psychosocial dynamics of her workplace.
Royal, who worked in a bindery in a crumbling industrial neighbourhood in Chicago, had envisioned her future workplace as a wonderfully old-fashioned “Gutenberg-esque” warehouse. She ultimately comes to accept it as nothing more than a “glorified Kinko’s,” but the stranger-than-fiction cast of characters keep her entertained. A couple of brothers with a lifetime of enmity between them run the bindery: one’s an asshole, the other a cross-dresser. Locals such as mobsters, “The Naked Guy” and front-yard farmers make smoke breaks colourful.
At first, The Book Bindery’s mono-tonal, detached, journal-like entries are as much of a slog to get through as Royal’s work-day. As the stories build upon themselves the reader becomes invested in the bindery and attached to its inhabitants. One episode finds Royal sharing a daily bus commute with “The Crazy Girl,” where an unexpectedly poignant relationship develops. This journey from judgmental detachment to genuine investment mirrors an experience that so many of us live to tell: the unlikely integration of our “real” selves into the manufactured microcosms of our work world. It’s worth riding out the rough patches of this book to come to this realization. (Ellie Anglin)
Chapbook, Sarah Royal, Microcosm Publishing, microcosmpublishing.com, $6.95