Layoff Lit: Spare Us!

Crunch Time: Selling Tales of the Great Downturn

This is exactly why we all hate you, New York Times.

The new George Clooney film, “Up in the Air,” hit a nerve with its portrayal of an unmoored corporate executioner who makes his living by firing people. Now several writers and their publishers are hoping to catch the same wave with a cluster of forthcoming memoirs and novels that describe the fallout of losing a job, losing a house or losing an investment account.

Call it layoff lit. Next month will bring “The Bag Lady Papers,” a memoir by Alexandra Penney, the former editor in chief of Self magazine, who said she had lost all her savings to Bernard L. Madoff. In May Dominique Browning, the former editor of House & Garden, has a memoir, “Slow Love: How I Got Kicked Off the Fast Track, Put My Pajamas On for a Year & Found Happiness.”

Wait. There have never, ever, ever been books like this before?

First of all, spare me The Bag Lady Papers. You went for the greed and lost. Too damned bad. Let me repeat that: You went for the greed. “Oh, you must meet Bernie, darling. He gets us returns like no one else.” See Fields, W.C.: You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break. You went for the greed and got deservedly fleeced. Now go away.

As for the rest, save your time and your money.

I read deeply into this field back in the late 1980s, during the time when Reagan’s sham policies were unwinding the economy and I happened to get unwound along with it. I can’t recall all the books I read, but the ones I can recall are worth your money and your time.

You can skip the latest trendy weep-for-me crap been puked out by the desperate dying dinosaurs of print.

These are all you need, listed in the order you should read them too:

Falling from Grace: Downward Mobility in the Age of Affluence by Katherine S. Newman

Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America G J. Meyer

Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression by Studs Terkel

Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do by Studs Terkel

And of more recent vintage:

A Working Stiff’s Manifesto: A Memoir of Thirty Jobs I Quit, Nine That Fired Me, and Three I Can’t Remember by Iain Levison

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

These are true and honest books not trying to milk you for cheap sympathy.

And this is an excellent novel depicting the zeitgeist of it all:

Since the Layoffs by Iain Levison

Since this one is criminally out of print (and Iain has not yet put back his website), a choice excerpt:

“There’s a switch, an EFS switch,” she says, getting impatient, or annoyed at being treated like a charity case. Then I see a tiny switch at the bottom of the credit card machine marked “EFS.” I click the switch, and I’m amazed when a receipt prints up. She signs a copy and walks off. limping under the weight of three gallons of milk which she appears to be carrying home through the cold. It must be for a family’s breakfast. I look at the receipt, and it says, “Electronic Food Stamps, Inc.”

Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. Not Electronic Food Stamps, but Electronic Food Stamps, Incorporated. This is a business. Somebody’s making money designing ways to get government aid to people who have been tossed aside. Some money grubbing software designer has a government contract because we all lost our jobs.

That’s the biggest insult of all, that we are being fed off. The destruction of my life, my town, represents a business opportunity to someone else. Nine months ago, this woman walking through the cold was probably a factory employee, or perhaps the wife of one, and her children had health insurance and she had a car and she bought milk in the daytime, with money. I am suddenly filled with the urge to find the fucker who owns this EFS company and shoot him right in the fucking face. I feel that someone owes me an explantion, not a corporate public relations-type explanation, but a down- on- your- knees- begging- for- your- life explanation, which is the only kind worth listening to.

But he’s not the only one. From now on, I have to make a list of people who need to be shot in the face. There needs to be a real bloodbath, to equal the financial and emotional one which has just been drawn for all of us. — pages 20-21

And one more novel:

All That Counts by Georg M. Oswald

Which also deserves an excerpt:

The real puzzle for me is how the generation of Aunt Olivia and her husband have managed to earn a huge amount of money in absolutely secure jobs, and to see that as the most natural thing in the world. I’ve never heard these people utter a single word of doubt — of doubt about themselves, I mean — or any reference to their unabashed good fortune. They simply hold the opinion that this wealth is naturally their due, that it’s obtainable because of their outstanding abilities, and that for that reason they have quite naturally and literally earned it.

No one has ever earned anything; they’ve just gotten ahold of it. I’ve seen some of their people going under as well — although not that many of them. And there was nothing they could do. — pages 25-26]

Really, if you were a greedy moron fleeced by Madoff, do you really, really expect sympathy from anybody? Maybe that’s your problem right there: stupidity!

One Response to Layoff Lit: Spare Us!

  1. Jenn says:

    Very astute post. I did indeed remark to myself how poorly researched and unthough out that article was.

    It all sounds familiar indeed, especially since I wrote one of these “layoff lit” books which you didn’t include which I’m sure was an innocent oversight on you part (har har) here:


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