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Book Review: The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the read-all-about-it dept.

It's funny.  Laugh. 37

First time accepted submitter NewtonBoxers writes "Considering the amount of time most of us spend at work, it's surprising how few novels are set in the workplace and base their plot on the goings-on there. Perhaps, having spent a long day slaving in the corporate salt mines, many of us would rather forget about such humdrum matters and take refuge in books that offer us more excitement. Others, though, seem to enjoy the humor that can derive from the very things that drive us mad – management incompetence, byzantine procedures, pointless meetings... in short the stuff of everyday office life. We read Dilbert, we watch The Office, and we could do a lot worse than read Augustus Gump's very funny second novel, The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick. " Read on for the rest of NewtonBoxers's review.This book is a sequel to The Management Secrets of T. John Dick, which was published a few years ago. Like the first book, The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick is written in the voice of a bumbling, self-important marketing executive at SuperPumps, a manufacturing company in North Carolina. The company makes pumps of some kind, but this is not really important, least of all to TJ, who doesn't like to let too much knowledge of what his company actually makes interfere with his ability to focus on the big picture.

Also like the first book, much of the humor comes from the contrast between TJ's view of himself and the truth apparent to his colleagues and to the reader. In this, he might be compared to Charles Pooter in George Grossmith's Diary of a Nobody. TJ sees himself as a man of vision, able to "think outside the box" and "see the big picture." None of the sticky situations in which his actions land the company are ever his fault, and if his greatness fails to shine, that is surely due to the incompetence of those who surround him. He also sees himself as the natural successor to Rich, the company President, who, he is convinced, sees him not just as an employee, but as a personal friend and the one man in the company he can rely on.

The story starts at a trade show in Las Vegas, where someone plays a prank on TJ as he takes a nap at his company's booth after a long night involving powerful cocktails and strange women with even stranger predictions for his future – the first of several references to Macbeth. I don't want to spoil the fun, so suffice it to say that the prank turns out to work in TJ's favor and also to benefit the company to the tune of a large order from a Japanese customer. On the back of this, TJ is propelled to the position of acting president of SuperPumps, while Rich is in a coma, thanks to an accident for which TJ is, of course, in no way to blame.

TJ's efforts to display his leadership qualities run up against colleagues who refuse to take him seriously. This is especially true of Ronnie, VP of Finance, nicknamed the Ostrich, who takes particular pleasure in entangling him in his own complicated procedures. This leads to some very funny scenes, as he tries to maintain order in chaotic meetings and stamp his authority on his new subordinates. He pours money into a ridiculous promotional campaign for a revolutionary single-nozzle pump, which turns out to have two nozzles. On being informed by the Ostrich that he himself has gained an unwelcome nickname, he responds by drawing up an official company nickname policy. Meanwhile his home life is complicated by his wife's refusal to go along with his marriage mission statement and the unexpected discovery of an exotic dancer in his hot tub. Back at the plant, TJ stumbles upon a piece of skullduggery which threatens the future of the company. He is rapidly discovering that being the boss is not quite what he expected.

The focus of the story may be the humor derived from TJ's character, but the plot includes several twists and turns, with the pace really picking up in the last third of the book. In the end, TJ finds he has to rely on the very people he has dismissed as obstacles to his greatness in order to save the day. It briefly seems that he has learned a lesson from this, but the book's closing conversation with the Ostrich, to whom he owes more than anyone, suggests otherwise. This actually comes as a relief to the Ostrich, who is fond of TJ the way he is, a fondness shared by the other characters, Grace, his outrageously unfaithful but affectionate wife and Greg, the male burlesque dancer who follows Grace from Las Vegas and is welcomed into the house by TJ, who is convinced he is gay.

As an IT manager, I frequently run up against people who display at least some of the characteristics of T. John Dick. They are infuriating, of course, but, since shooting them would be against company policy, I find it a lot better for my blood pressure to follow the example of the Ostrich and focus on their funny side. "The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick" will draw laughter and groans of recognition in equal measure, but the strange thing is that, like the Ostrich, you will end up sympathizing with the main character. At the end of the book, the Ostrich, amused by the apparent parallels between TJ and Macbeth, brings up the "fatal flaw" of Shakespearian tragic heroes and asks TJ what he thinks his flaw might be. TJ's response is typical:

I thought for a long moment, but it was no good. "I can't think of one," I replied at last.

T. John Dick is no tragic hero. He is however, a great comic creation. I recommend this book for anyone with experience of working in a corporate environment or who enjoys workplace humor.

You can purchase The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837021)

How quaint !!


Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837239)

Your caps-lock infused first post can be interpreted both physically and metaphorically. Well said sir.


Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839267)

... said the albino man with an arm for a leg and a leg for an arm.

just not as good as his cousin's writings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837135)

O course, that was a biography, not a work of fiction. Except the part about going to the moon. We know that was faked. Just ask Buzz Aldrin.

Fiction (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837191)

Why, that is something I might actually read.

Have there been any other books of fiction reviewed on slashdot? I can't remember any.

Re:Fiction (2)

Caesar Tjalbo (1010523) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838599)

Have there been any other books of fiction reviewed on slashdot? I can't remember any.

Refactoring Perl for dummies.

Probably Slashvertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837205)

Consider the following:

  • The publisher of this work and the earlier one is the Mainland Press, not a respected publisher and one whose simple website throws up a number of red flags.
  • There is no Wikipedia article for the author. There's no proof that his first book created much of a buzz at all.
  • The Amazon reviews for this book and the last are the sort that savvy Amazon users can recognize as the work of review shills (you send them a free copy, they give you a five star review on the basis of the back cover's description of the book, not actually reading it).

There, it's probable that this is a vanity press production whose author is trying to flog it on Slashdot. Don't waste your time with it.

Re:Probably Slashvertisement (2)

Synerg1y (2169962) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837259)

Also reading about work sounds more boring than being at work. A feat tough to match.

Re:Probably Slashvertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837723)

How about playing The Sims and modelling it after your own life?

Fiction is supposed to be about entertainment and escaping reality, if you've never worked in such an oppresive environment, then I suppose it might seem funny, but to someone who actually lived a good portion of those things, it's anything but.

To use the appropriate book analogy, it's like someone from a country where Christians and Muslims are at best a minority, reading the Bible, a very serious subject in the Western world, only to find out, they view it pretty much like Christopher Moore's "Lamb".

I have a question for the author (since, I'm not going to touch the book) are there also the more news worthy aspects in there? Like getting sued for a silly comment to a woman co-worker? Or getting fired when your boss pins one of his screw-ups on you? Or, my all time favourite, after slaving for 20 years at the same company, 2 years before retirement, you find out the retirement funds are gone? Or, how about the ever popular, you have medical insurance, but not quite enough for a lifesaving treatment?

Laugh about it if you want, but if you do, then it means you already gave up and shouldn't even complain.

Now, be a good little slave and fetch me some coffee, this one is cold.

Re:Probably Slashvertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837295)

How and why did this get to the front page?

Re:Probably Slashvertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837391)

I work for a major publisher of educational materials. Our works are cited on Wikipedia, but our company is not, not even on the pages that are about our products. Two of our products are the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scales and The Edmark Reading Program.

Just because a publisher is not listed on Wikipedia that doesn't mean that they are a small vanity press.

Re:Probably Slashvertisement (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42839669)

I'm going to take a wild guess that your job is not proofreader. He said the author is not found on Wikipedia.

Sequel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837261)

The review mentions this book is a sequel, but I didn't see anywhere where the reviewer mentions whether one should read the first book prior to reading this one. Can one easily dive into The Rise and Fall without having read "Management Secrets"?

read this (1)

jeditobe (2701857) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837287)

Re:read this (1)

Scutter (18425) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837383)

You're shilling your own submissions in other threads? Classy.

as soon as I finish my novel (1)

ozduo (2043408) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837321)

I'll post an article describing how interesting it is, but first I have to figure out a plot!

Re:here, have a plot (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837575)

Millions of years ago a fairly advanced society found out their planet would be doomed within a short 1000 years because their sun was dying.

Without any knowledge of FTL they looked at their options and decided to move their entire planet out of orbit of that sun and move it to a close young sun, our sun.

They drifted though space with no sun for millions of years, their society advancing and evolving along with their technology. They turned inward immersing themselves in artificial reality to the point that even artificial intelligences had the same equal rights as those who were originally biological. There were worlds within worlds, turtles all the way down.

And then they got within range of Sol, finally so many who had given up their physical form had an outlet. There were many planets in the solar system they could go to, but Earth was off limits. A true world, with real people, it was too much to resist.

Re:here, have a plot (1)

ozduo (2043408) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837867)

I was thinking more on the lines of "boy meets girl, boy loose girl, boy becomes geek and spends rest of his life on slashdot"

Re:here, have a plot (1)

Jeng (926980) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837975)

And gets bludgeoned by trolls over your use of loose vs lose.

In your defense you can tell them that you let her loose to see if she would come back.

Re:here, have a plot (0)

ozduo (2043408) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838317)

thanks for picking that up, I intended to say "boy looses girl" which is the prerequisite for any female romance novel.

Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (1)

xxxJonBoyxxx (565205) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837473)

>> It's surprising how few novels are set in the workplace

Not really. We like Dilbert because it's one quick chuckle about work a day and that's it. I don't have time for The Office because it's 30 minutes long (zzz). A whole novel about work? Fugetaboutit!

Re:Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (2)

rnturn (11092) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837737)

"I don't have time for The Office because it's 30 minutes long (zzz)."

I don't have time for The Office because a.) it's not really funny and b.) after working in an office for nine hours a day, why in the hell would I find it entertaining to watch stupid office workers work for the worst boss on the planet?

A Dilbert cartoon is just the right dosage of office stupidity. An entire novel about office work? Pass.

Re:Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (1)

Zymophideth (1658251) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838327)

Actually, for the most part of this season they've had no boss in the office. As far as I can tell they seem more productive now.

Re:Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837801)

'the office' absolutely sucks hairy, droopy donkey balls. that's why we don't watch it. has nothing to do with it being 30 minutes long... other than that's 35 minutes too long.

Re:Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (1)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#42840385)

The American version sucks, but I still think the UK original -- like most of Ricky Gervais's stuff -- is really quite bitingly funny.

Re:Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (1)

PCM2 (4486) | about a year and a half ago | (#42840463)

>> It's surprising how few novels are set in the workplace

LOTS of novels are written about the workplace. The critical point is that they don't get published.

Here's how it works: Some guy (they're almost always guys) goes to university, gets a BA in English, then goes off and gets a dull office job because he needs money to pay off his student loans, just like everybody else. Time goes by, and about ten years in he starts to grow unsatisfied with his situation and he thinks to himself, "Whatever happened to that novel I always said I was going to write?" And he vows to write a novel.

But what should the novel be about? Well, you know what they say: "Write what you know." And what does he know? Well, pretty much since he got out of college, he's been working at a boring, soul-numbing office job. He hates his coworkers and thinks they're all idiots. The boss is the worst of all. Great stuff, he thinks! He has piles of material to work with. And so he sets out to write his book about a guy working in an office.

The problem is A.) Unbeknownst to him, he is not the first person to have this idea;
B.) When you write a book where the main character is just some schlub in an office going around thinking he's superior to everybody else around him, that main character comes off like a dick;
C.) It turns out that the silly little situations that get you through your dreary days at the office are not really that amusing to anyone else -- or witty, or original, or insightful, etc.;
D.) It turns out that the office is not really a very fertile setting for fiction after all, and that the reason a lot of people who work office jobs bring books with them on the train in the morning is because they'd rather think about something else.

I am being dead serious about all of this. I've been told by literary agents that this type of book is probably the #2 submission received by fiction agents/editors from first-time authors, right after the thinly-veiled memoir of the author's college days disguised as a novel.

Like the latter book, the "novel about my suffering and toil at the office" is best seen as a practice run -- finish it if you must, but then immediately shelve it and start your second novel, which might be about something interesting.

Re:Dilbert? Yes. The Office? No, WAY too long. (1)

bzipitidoo (647217) | about a year and a half ago | (#42844941)

The interest I have in office stories is in why so many workplaces are so dysfunctional, and how to change that. I've suffered through my share of office horror. I'd rather it was solved than mined for what little comedy is to be had from situations that are more mean, ugly, petty, and stupid than funny.

The medieval nobility and monarchy was sidelined for good reason. The "noble" noble was the exception, not the rule. What was more common was to see his lordship totally out of control. No one could tell him no, so he constantly indulged his most perverse and irrational whims. Life for the subjects could be particularly unpleasant if his lordship was someone like the Marquis de Sade or Vlad the Impaler. Women had to hide from him. Second best for women was to be accompanied by close male relatives. If his lordship's pet dogs took to crapping on the highway, or in a barracks or kitchen or some other public facility, he'd let it be someone else's problem, or he might possibly appoint someone to clean up after the beloved pets, rather than train his dogs not to do that there. Mel Brook's portrayal of King Louis, in which he tells the audience "it's good to be the king" after groping a lady and not being admonished in any way, not even a slap, is not an exaggeration. If anything, it's too mild. In reality, if a powerful male noble encountered some unaccompanied lady, he might drag her behind the nearest curtain and rape her right there, and no one would do anything about it. Then he'd continue on his merry way without so much as a finger wagging, while she was vilified for losing her virginity outside of marriage and had to be packed off to a nunnery. If she was married, neither she or her husband had any legitimate grounds for protest, and if lacking in force, had to resort to subversion for redress of their grievance. If she had enough backing to cause trouble, the noble could simply pay off her relatives with money obtained through taxation, and let bygones be bygones. Or perhaps he'd welcome a war, to distract the peasants from some other problem, drive home to them that things could be worse. He also had a tendency to think of himself as a great person with great ideas, and much like the Kims of North Korea, no one dared point out otherwise.

Today, we see this same kind of bullshit in the office. The root of the problem is that power corrupts. Management has an unhealthy amount of authority and power, and many managers lack the character and discipline to refrain from abusing it. The sort of person who most wants such authority, wants it so they can enjoy the perceived perks however abusive and unfair that is to the underlings. Rank hath its privileges. And here is where corporations really blow it. They're terrible at screening out the abusers and making sure they don't receive or keep power. The power structure of pretty much every corporation is feudal. When the person at the top is an irresponsible jackass, the spoiled child, grandchild, great grand nephew or whatever of the founder, the wonder is that the organization doesn't degrade even more than it usually does. These leaders not only fail to spot the bad managers, they may see in them kindred spirits. Just one example was Marge Schott, owner of the Cincinnati Reds, who let her dogs run wild and crap on the baseball field when it was needed for a game.

So, yeah, yet another story about all this is not particularly illuminating or enjoyable. Dilbert and The Office said what needed saying, and said it well. The message bears repeating, yes, until the revolution comes and the feudal organization of corporations is swept away. But not just parroting, need something new.

set up perfectly (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about a year and a half ago | (#42837529)

This title is just asking for V1agra jokes.

The Rise and Fall of.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42837785)

The Rise and Fall

Douglas Coupland: Microserfs, JPOD (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42838533)

Really looked hard.

A good book set in the workplace (1)

dandelionblue (2757475) | about a year and a half ago | (#42838867)

If anyone wants another good book set in an office, Joshua Ferris' Then We Came To The End is brilliant. It's about a group of advertising workers during the bursting of the dot-com bubble and is very funny.

kind of familiar (1)

blackest_k (761565) | about a year and a half ago | (#42839747) []

The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin is a series of novels which developed into a British sitcom starring Leonard Rossiter in the title role. Both the books and television series were written by David Nobbs, and the screenplay for the first series was adapted by Nobbs from the novel, though subplots in the novel were considered too dark or risqué for television and toned down or omitted, an example being the relationship between Perrin's daughter and his brother-in-law.

The story concerns a middle-aged middle manager, Reggie Perrin, who is driven to bizarre behaviour by the pointlessness of his job at Sunshine Desserts.

The Boss was CJ and you can probably find most of the episodes on youtube. Maybe like the American version of the office it is a remake of a British original. Still quite funny but the books go down hill as the idea's dry up and the same characters are overly reused.

If that's.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42842147)

not a good Porno movie title, I don't know what is!

Yet another boringly Review, I'll fix that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42842191)

SuperPumps, Inc. is in trouble, and only T. John Dick can save it – looks like it’s worse than we thought.
Nobody has more confidence in the abilities of marketing executive T. John Dick than TJ himself. So when a bizarre series of events lands him in the hot seat at SuperPumps, Inc., he soon sets about firing anyone interfering with his ability to focus on the big picture by getting on his nerves. But even he is shaken by the treachery that puts SuperPumps in mortal danger. Maybe he shouldn’t have fired everyone who could help him in his hour of need!

With “The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick,” Augustus Gump cements his reputation as one of the funniest storytellers writing today. His unique take on the absurdities of corporate life is the perfect antidote to every serious business book you wish you hadn’t read.

Re:Yet another boringly Review, I'll fix that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42842205)

Boringly LONG review

The Pale King (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42845435)

DFW's unfinished novel is crafted around his experience as an IRS contract employee in the 1980s. Superb.

Moby Dick, speaking of Dick (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42845453)

The original great American workplace novel.

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