There was a time when I had some jobs I couldn't stand. What made it bearable were the friends I had at those jobs...and the eye candy. So I could definitely relate to Maddy, the heroine of "Confessions of a Call Center Gal" by Lisa Lim. Granted, I never worked at a call center, but it really encompassed any tedious and boring job I ever disliked in the past and gave me a lot to laugh about, as well.
Lisa Lim's debut novel opens with Madison (a.k.a. Maddy) getting frustrated by the lack of job interviews and the mountain of rejection letters. While visiting her best friend in Pocatello, Idaho, she applies for a job in a call center and receives an offer she probably should have refused. Soon she is in the throes of a nightmare, dealing with obscene and obnoxious callers who swear and yell at her all day long, along with a boss who constantly breathes down her neck. However, she also makes some unique new friends, bonds with her best friend and develops a crush on the office hunk. Through this job, Maddy learns a lot about herself and the essence of human nature (or how far someone will go to make someone else miserable).
There was a lot to like about this novel. It was both quirky and funny, and Maddy was easy to relate to. She had a mature voice for being fresh out of college but she also sounded realistic for her age. She's someone I could see befriending on the job. The dialogue was fun and conversations (or even inner monologues) didn't drag. Her use of description was great too. I could visualize everything perfectly. The sexual tension and chemistry between Maddy and her office crush was delightful. I also enjoyed the holiday scenes, all the pop culture references (including one to Adam Lambert), as well as the day to day annoyances and nuances of the job at hand. It was like the chick lit version of "Office Space" for a new generation. What I really liked was the message that Ms. Lim put out there through Maddy's "voice," regarding jobs and customers treat service people. As I mentioned earlier, it reminded me a lot of my past jobs (almost a conglomeration of a few of them) and I found myself nodding and grinning along with what Maddy was saying. I even had (and still have) a friend like Truong (although slightly less offensive). Even if you haven't worked in a call center, it's easy to become sympathetic towards the person on the other end of the phone when you're calling to request a repair. It does for call center reps what "Waiting" does for restaurant staff. (Minus the gross scene in the kitchen though.)
This novel did leave me with some concerns though. Ms. Lim actually gave me a disclaimer for it recently, saying that people who get offended by "The Office" and "Chelsea Lately" should not be reading this novel. Luckily for her, I laughed the entire time at "Avenue Q" (the Tony Award winning musical about puppets who swear and have sex). This novel is more on that level of offensive humor. I was able to handle most of it and even laughed quite a bit. However, there are some lines that should not be crossed and if you're easily offended by any type of racist or ethnic humor, you may want to keep that in mind before reading this novel. This definitely falls under the rated-R category for language alone. I could handle her making Asian jokes, since Ms. Lim is of Asian descent. However, those who are not Jewish should not be cracking Holocaust jokes. (Jerry Seinfeld could have a "Soup Nazi" because he is Jewish. However, the "Not-Ready Nazi" related jokes in this story crossed a line for me.) I also did not like that she made fun of some disabilities (namely deafness). And the flatulence and scatological (or toilet-related) humor could probably have been toned down or written out altogether. Aside from that, Ms. Lim placed Maddy in her early 20's but wrote her like a 16 year-old. Maddy would talk in a "Facebook Status" style sometimes, which would have made more sense if she was doing it in an e-mail to her friend instead of a conversation. Finally, the transitions between scenes could have been set up better. It seemed like a scene would shift to another day or place within the same chapter, but there were no markings in between each scene.
Overall, I had a fun time reading "Confessions..." I couldn't wait to see what would happen next and was able to share in Maddy's frustration, as well as rejoice in her happiness. The other characters are vivid and memorable (even the crazy or detestable ones). It definitely made me think twice about how I treat people on the phone and also how I view my career path. I would love to see this as a movie, although some parts would need to be toned down. I think it would still be funny without those parts, thanks to Ms. Lim's unique and carefree writing style. While I have already been recommending it to some friends, I do share in Ms. Lim's disclaimer that you should prepare to be possibly offended. However, if you can handle a combination of "Avenue Q" and "Office Space," (probably more than "The Office" meets "Bridget Jones's Diary," as this novel has been described) then you can definitely handle reading this insightful look into the world of call center jobs.
Thanks to Lisa Lim for sending me this e-book in exchange for an honest review. Lisa is visiting CLC this week and you won't want to miss her interview, which is as funny as she is. She's also giving away some e-books of "Confessions..."
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