literary journalism

Hilary Leichter’s ‘Temporary’

Hilary Leichter’s debut novel grew out of a short story published in the literary magazine n+1 in 2012. The gig economy and its attendant anxieties have only expanded since. “I have a shorthand kind of career,” says the protagonist. “Short tasks, short stays, short skirts.”

We never learn her name: she is everywoman and Nobody, anonymously drifting to the next destination like Odysseus slipping away from the Cyclops.The temp takes on a series of odd jobs, with an emphasis on the odd. She works on a blimp. She fills in for a ghost, opening and closing doors at regular intervals. She covers for the chairman of Major Corp, who asks her to carry his ashes around after his death so he can still be “a man about town”. She takes a job on a pirate ship, subject to a confidentiality agreement. (“My new crew was once a company of internet pirates, but they rebranded.”) She’s employed by an assassin — “a task that lasts” — who is hoping to IPO his small murder business.

Released in the US last year, Temporary was the final title published by Emily Books, whose mission was to “make weird books by women”. As these voices became more sought out by mainstream publishers, it was increasingly difficult to compete as an independent imprint. The book joins an emerging genre of millennial workplace novels, sometimes with a surreal bent, which includes Ottessa Moshfegh’s My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018), Ling Ma’s Severance (2018), Halle Butler’s The New Me (2019) and Kikuko Tsumura’s (translated by Polly Barton) There’s No Such Thing as an Easy Job (2020). While some of the female characters in these novels yearn to erase their existence, what Leichter’s heroine is after is permanence — “a job that stays”…

Read the full review online at the Financial Times 

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