Ryan Bracha’s After Call Work made me laugh and cringe all at the same time. Told from the perspective of socially inept Barry and party girl Penny, the novel puts you in a cheap white shirt and sends you off to one of the worst jobs you could find – customer service in a call centre. Barry’s failed suicide bid and Penny’s terrible one night-stand with the workplace knob and Lothario, brings the main characters together in a train of comedy, pathos, heart, and vile shenanigans.
Bracha has a golden touch in the way he twists his characters, and so shifts your sentiments. So, Penny goes from loveable to making you want to smack your head at her stupidity, back to loving her again. The real achievement is in Barry’s character. My sentiments morphed from wanting to pat him on the head as you would a sad-eyed donkey, to actually wanting to bully him, to feeling guilty about such thoughts. He’s a complex character whose friends are all online wrapped from reality by a video game. He has no physical pals to keep him in the real world, and so he views what’s outside his computer screen through a sickly treacle and a strict moral code which makes his colleagues squirm from, or attack him with some strong language. It’s tough and compelling to read.
In contrast, Penny’s a joy. Despite her online humiliation and the growing disaster, she is foul-mouthed, funny, and not embarrassed by her sexual appetite (except if her parents know about it). She can be rough, funny, and full of heart. You warm to her as soon as she shows concern at Barry’s treatment after his suicide attempt. You want to spend time with her.
The plot is great, but it’s the character choices which turn the pages, with plenty of comedy gold coming from the drug dealer Barry shares a house with, and the two warriors who bring World of Warcraft to the real world.
Whatever job you can’t stand right now, here’s a novel to make you think twice about quitting so you don’t end up in a call centre. Bracha details the soul-sucking nature of the work and the terrible behaviour it induces, or is forced upon you, so well that the idea of being stuck in an office with such people might just be enough to send you out of an upper floor window.
A cracking read. Can’t wait for the next two installments in the series.