Book Review 2012-001
Lorraine Nelson: A Biography In Post-It® Notes by David Hawkins
2012 by The Cupboard, 58 pages
I love The Cupboard. A quick description from their website: "The Cupboard is a quarterly pamphlet of creative prose published in Lincoln, Nebraska. Each volume features a body of work by a single author." I've enjoyed each and every one and am a very happy subscriber. The eleventh such volume recently arrived in the mail and reading it twice the past day and a half I was struck by how much it reminded me of Michael Martone's The Blue Guide to Indiana (which has a big note, at least at Amazon.com, that it is NOT a member of The Blue Guide series). Martone's book contained fictitious essays, sprinkled, I believe, with true information, about the state of Indiana, the type of information tourists would be interested in (I especially recall a description of a maze of a system of pipes in which the state product of mayonnaise was distributed) that he frequently published in small town newspapers. While reading David Hawkins' Lorraine Nelson: A Biography In Post-It® Notes, I had a similar feeling of rarely knowing if I was reading truth or fiction or a blurring of the two. Upon looking up the website to find a cover image, I have to say I was less than surprised to find out that this particular volume of The Cupboard is a contest winner, and the judge, Michael Martone.
Hawkins does a fantastic job of putting together twenty-five short pieces that combine into one long essay (what I've determined this truly is, perhaps foolishly) using, mainly, lousy jobs and bits and pieces of trivia to write of both language and to a point, survival. At one point in the first short piece, Hawkins writes:
Alas, I had never met the hero of my story, Lorraine Nelson. Or read her letters. Or spoken to her parents or friends. Or seen her, for that matter--not even in a picture.
Which all makes sense, for Lorraine Nelson is the standard fictitious (?) name used on proofs for products created by DDS, the Direct Mailing firm that our protagonist (assumed David Hawkins) is temping for during the bulk of this essay. Every single proof that comes his way (copy editor/proof reader) is addressed to Lorraine Nelson, 322 Palm Beach Blvd., Pompano Beach, CA 90525. He sees her name hundreds, if not thousands, of times. Well, "her" name, as if there were a her.
Much of Hawkins' tale hits on the mundane daily routines that slip into the corporate world, often finding him slipping away to sit for two hours in a stall in the bathroom until his rear end numbs to the point that he needed to waddle back from the restroom, or at one point shredding a package of lunchmeat he found in the kitchen, piece by piece. Describing the temporary worker industry:
As long as I continued to punch-in and refrained from urinating in the company watercooler or setting my head afire on the printroom floor, I retained my status as ideal temp employee.
"Language is continuously on the move," Hawkins notes mid-book. And he shows this rather incredibly through the Direct Mailing industry. Short pieces on how specific words like "real", or like in this sentence usage of unnecessary quotation marks can cause the reader to react more positively. He uses puns and wordplay to describe both the work day and the industry in general, even showing examples of how important the double entendre is to the industry--in response to an add from the beef industry stating Beef. It's what's for dinner, the pork industry replied with a billboard that featured:
...a model Madison-Avenue couple standing at a barbecue. As he fusses over chops on the grill, she smiles broadly and fauns just a little too intently over her hubby.
The slogan above the scene reads: Pork The one you love.
Somewhere in here was my intent to really make readers want to read this book and to be honest I'm not sure I've done so. It truly is a fascinating bit of writing, getting me to not only enjoy the writing itself, causing me to laugh, to think, to google names to try to determine if it were non-fiction, but most of all it made me want to flip it right back to page one and start over when I finished page 58--and to me that's the sign that I've just read something really wonderful.