Several People Are Typing is the debut novel from Brooklyn author and journalist Calvin Kasulke. It’s a mimetically presented piece about Gerald, a social media copywriter at a PR firm in New York City who finds himself trapped inside the company Slack channel.
The entire book is written as a series of Slack transcripts, complete with textual descriptions of gifs and emojis and the speakers’ handles in bold above their “dialogue”. At first glance this book could be mistaken for a script or a minimalist verse novel.
Gerald’s attempts to persuade his workmates he’s not simply trying to impress their mildly eccentric boss with his creativity meet with varied success. He tries to cut through office in-jokes and project updates to enlist someone to keep his vacated body alive while he works out how he ended up “Tron’d”, how to preserve his identity while embedded within a digital network and, ultimately, how to reverse the process. As stakes are raised, the story veers between observational office humour and slapstick body-swap comedy.
The pot shots Kasulke takes at social media and marketing culture are very enjoyable. The office politics he portrays are familiar, though perhaps less aggressive than those in the real workplaces the book is parodying. This mildness is not offputting, though – it makes these workmates more likeable and enhances the emotional investment in their various plights.
Several People Are Typing feels highly contemporary in its take on the absurd inanity of social media marketing. The world it depicts will be familiar to readers working in similar industries, particularly its portrayal of working from home. One of the main difficulties Gerald faces in his attempts to persuade his colleagues he is not goofing around is subverting their assumption that he, like most of them, is simply interacting with them online while working from home.
It reads pleasantly like an early ’90s slacker rom-com: glib, dry, silly and a little bit existential. Kasulke’s writing is playfully surreal and at times dark, but not too dark. Its overall light and casual tone has a friendliness and optimism that inspires investment in its characters and even forgiveness for how the plot hastens towards a somewhat by-the-numbers but nevertheless emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Several People Are Typing is a fun, light read about circumstances that will feel familiar to office workers navigating the complexities of working life in 2021. It’s a sweet little page-turner that draws the reader along and encourages us to find some humour, generosity and love with which to leaven our workaday existentialism.
Hachette, 256pp, $22.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on September 25, 2021 as "Several People Are Typing, Calvin Kasulke".
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