There’s a scene in the movie Office Space where one of the characters – played by Ron Livingston – has finally had enough of his soulless boss and the mindlessness of his workday cubicle existence.
Stolen power drill in hand, he rampages through the office, tearing down cubicle walls and gutting a fresh fish at his desk (to a Geto Boys soundtrack). It’s a scene of liberation for the character, a scene where he finally asserts himself and starts to control his own destiny.
This scene is not replicated in Peter Darbyshire’s new novel, The Warhol Gang.
The Warhol Gang begins and ends with what seems like death.
The book’s protagonist is given the name Trotsky on page 4 by a man named ‘Nickel’, his new boss. Trotsky has just been hired at Adsenses, “a neuromarketing company that scans his brain to test new products”.
Trotsky spends his days at work cocooned in a special ‘pod’ where he experiences heightened sensory episodes and imaginary scenarios designed by neuromarketers to test prospective products.
In the pod he may see himself in scented rooms, in his own expensive apartment with beautiful women, wearing designer clothes, with a sense of family, fulfillment and certainty.
Nothing could be further from the reality of Trotsky’s existence.
These holograms reflect a deep loneliness in the character and an abundant sense of absence surrounds him.
He searches for some kind of genuine experience and in the course of doing so meets a woman who dreams of stardom but who makes her living faking accidents for insurance money.
And from there the story continues one surreal inversion of desire after another until the characters’ reality becomes an embodiment of a rebel mythology.
Warhol, Trotsky, Che, Holiday, Thatcher – the names evoke a sense of recent pop culture – and ‘real’ culture – history. Each name signifying real historical people but when overlaid on the book’s characters the names create a surreal and eerie effect.
Truth is that I’m going to have to go back and read this book again.
So many ideas and tangents are coming back to me as I write this and I know that there’s a lot more in this book than I got the first time thru.
Peter is addressing the absurdity and hopelessness of life when it’s met by a world that devours flesh and blood dreams with marketed illusions of reality.
What happens when your dreams come not from within but are insinuated upon you via incessant external stimulus?
What happens when your desires are the desires that others desire for you to have?
What difference does anything make? Why not go in for the kill?