Sunday, May 3, 2015

Local Book, Local Author: “Discount” by Casey Gray

by Nani Lawrence, Writing Intern

New Mexico State University professor Casey Gray recently released his first novel. It centers on the lives of employees and customers at the Las Cruces mega-store, “Superstore” (legally he couldn't say Wal-Mart and neither will we). Although the book mostly follows its characters through everyday—and somewhat uneventful—situations, Gray finds a way to liven it up, be it through humor, rising action, or character development.

This book both highlights the at-store and in-the-real-world aspects of its characters’ lives. The voice is that of the omniscient narrator, and throughout switches between characters’ points of view. If you’re not paying attention, that can be a bit confusing, but switching so often definitely keeps the read fresh and interesting.

Some English scholars and fellow writers--who have read it--criticized the free use of colorful language in Discount. People seem to assume that swearing shows a lack of intellect, though it actually simply means your vocabulary happens to contain those words. It is hard to imagine sifting through such a large cast of characters, including gang members, a frustrated grandmother, and a teenager going through a “deep,” goth phase without a few f-bombs or three. Additionally, people—mostly full-grown adults—don’t restrain themselves in that way. Hopefully, readers never feel that restraint in a novel meant to closely reflect real life.

The book’s best quality is its watered-down use of situational and ironic humor. For example, one of the characters, Ron, sends a “dick pic” to a fellow employee. Luckily, his face remains hidden. The image includes his daughter’s Barbie doll house and his erection coming through the window “like the arm of Kong reaching for Ann Darrow.” But wait; there’s more. More reality-driven and funny in a self-reflecting capacity, at work, Ron creates a scenario in his head where he and Claudia are in love. When she doesn't show appreciation for the intentionally funny picture, Ron’s hurt feelings lead to slight bitterness. But he does regret the drunken misstep, and dreaded her reaction all day.

Another subtle, apparently real-life based comical situation occurs within the Limon family. Most of them are in a Latino gang. At least on the surface, and perhaps to seem “hard,” this is a legitimate gang that commits legitimate crimes. The family initiates 12-year-old Conejito, invoking God’s will. Apparently, this is largely the case in real-life youth gangs.

The literary quality may be lacking a bit in Discount, but damn is it entertaining. It also finds its own way to comment on society’s beloved, low-cost sales' institution. During orientation, Betty Pulson, who’s in charge of general merchandise, promises exceptional equality throughout the company. Through interactions with potential employees, that pleasant façade swiftly fades.

As a symbol for the sense of equality Superstore wishes to invoke, all the tables in the break room are round, so that no one is at the head. When a potential employee points out that he saw square tables, Betty quickly moves on to other orientation matters. She asks all the potential employees to state a fact about themselves that will help the others remember them. Presley says that she wanted to get tattoos all over her body, which was officially alright. Kurt blurted out that his wife was bisexual and that they had an open relationship. Both decided not to return to orientation after lunch. Then, Betty referred to them as the tattooed freak and the pervert, respectively . . . .  These leaders, and this company, are not who they pretend to be. The biggest clue should be that they won’t allow employees to join unions, and that these supposedly naïve employees should just come directly to management with any problems they might have. 

Discount is not a mind-blowing, deeply thought-provoking book. These themes are not especially original, and it shows that Gray had been working on this novel for more than a few years. But still, it is worth a read. Gray’s mastery of turning the ordinary into the extraordinary is quite impressive, and his capacity for creating relatable characters will compel readers to turn the page.
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4 comments:

  1. What group of crap scholars are you hanging out with. Who criticizes swears? lol.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also, your review is reeks of undergrad.

    ReplyDelete

 
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