By Arjun Basu
304 pages, $25
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This article was published 28/3/2014 (2729 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Joe Fields, a 35-year-old New York ad man, is unhappy. So the protagonist of Waiting for the Man decides to drop out. Weighed down by the burden of writing ad copy for dog food clients that target hipsters, Joe no longer loves his job. He's successful, spoiled, self-important, overflowing with moral outrage. In other words, he's the man of the hour.
Fields is also bitter about the decline in media standards. "We are all celebrities now, aren't we? If you're not, something's wrong with you." As Waiting for the Man unfolds, it becomes increasingly apparent Joe is the mouthpiece of Arjun Basu, a Montreal media maven. The writer and editor's debut novel is saturated with astute industry references and glib observations.
Media professionals will recognize the familiar tone of defeat overheard on travel-media junkets and in desperate LinkedIn come-ons. "People in advertising, journalism and entertainment are the three horseman of the cynics," Fields pronounces early on.
Basu, director of content for Air Canada's enRoute in-flight magazine, is wedged tightly between the interests of advertisers and readers -- like an Air Canada passenger on a Las Vegas flight seated uncomfortably in coach.
Unlike his burned-out protagonist, Basu has conquered new media, sagely attracting 165,000 Twitter followers. In 2010, he won a Shorty Award for his pithy tweets, and his collection of short fiction, Squishy, garnered a ReLit Prize.
However, in Waiting for the Man, which is released April 1, it's unclear whether protagonist Joe Fields or author Arjun Basu is having the existential career crisis.
Joe Fields sets aside his banal task of "writing ads for a dying media" and spends his days and nights on the stoop of his New York neighbourhood waiting for his next directive. "The Man" eventually comes to Joe in his dreams, then becomes a waking, physical presence in Joe's life.
While he waits for the Man to contact him, Joe engages in a series of digressions about the state of the media. Print advertising is in decline and Joe is tired. His front-porch vigil attracts the attention of ambitious tabloid reporter Dan Fontana.
Joe is ambivalent about the media attention, but uses the opportunity to riff about his industry. "Except the advertising wasn't so much there anymore. It was moving. Money was going in different directions. If traditional media had been a dam, with a giant reservoir of ad dollars holed up behind it, well, that dam was broken. Dan was playing for the losing team. And I felt vaguely sorry for him."
Fields is the Forrest Gump of advertising, an overnight media darling who resents the intrusiveness of the public gaze but agrees to a sponsored Honda Odyssey minivan when the Man tells him to "go West."
When the protagonist seeks redemption at an upscale dude ranch in Arizona, the gap between author and protagonist narrows. Once again, the challenge for this reader was separating the fictional Joe Fields from the author's prolific media persona.
The luxury ranch experience Fields describes could be ripped from the pages of enRoute. "They watched movies in a theatre sitting on fat couches covered in buttery leather. And sometimes, when they felt they really should see some of the countryside, they got on the horses. Or they went for a hike."
In a surreal nod to the insidious power of product placement, the dude ranch anecdote from the book was actually excerpted exclusively in the March 2014 issue of enRoute -- by content director Arjun Basu.
Waiting for the Man is captivating, aggravating, enlightening and redemptive. It's My Dinner with Andre for media types. Basu has captured this empty era of limited attention spans, lazy journalists and addictive shopping habits with the manic menace only a jaded insider could muster.
Patricia Dawn Robertson is an Underwood baby and freelance writer who optimistically plies her trade from rural Saskatchewan.
By Arjun Basu
304 pages, $25
Updated on Saturday, March 29, 2014 at 8:13 AM CDT: Tweaks formatting.
March 31, 2014 at 3:03 PM: Updates pub date.
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