Steven Barker’s debut book, Now for the Disappointing Part: A Pseudo-Adult’s Decade of Short-Term Jobs, Long-Term Relationships, and Holding Out for Something Better (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016), is a compilation of essays about what it’s like working as a temporary employee, joining the nearly “17 million contract workers in the U.S.”
Barker knew he wanted to be a writer, but after he graduated with an English degree, he was not craving the traditional career and family paths that his friends were embarking upon. Although his father had worked his way up the company ladder, started a family, and eventually became a VP, Barker knew he didn’t want—and wasn’t ready for—that type of commitment. Temping, on the other hand, allowed Barker the freedom to write while he was between jobs; however, it often adversely affected his relationships and his standard of living.
In his essay in Part I, “So, you’re just going to be like this forever?”, Barker brings the reader into his relationship with Ashley, who contributed to Barker’s writing, offering constructive feedback. But, just before the author turned 30, they separated. Barker offered poignant details about their relationship, drawing the reader into all of the happy and significant moments. His writing is so strong that the reader can’t help but feel part of the couple’s life, in all of its ups and downs.
Barker’s essays are honest, and many offer humorous insights. The witty lines were so sudden that I found myself laughing out loud—sometimes in public. Barker is one funny guy, and, having had worked as a temp at one point, I found his stories completely relatable. He describes one of his supervisors: “My manager wore wide-legged cargo pants and a striped shirt which seemed like an odd choice of dress for a man with thinning hair. I’m pretty sure when I was in fourth grade my mom bought me the exact same outfit at a Bugle Boy outlet store.”
Now for the Disappointing Part is timely; Barker discusses how companies are no longer as devoted to their employees; rather, for cheaper labor, they hire temps or outsource to foreign countries. Barker asks why these temp workers should care any more than they have to about their temp jobs. He explores this idea in several essays, especially evident in his piece about working for Amazon. He writes: “Making sure a woman in Topeka, Kansas, has the right pair of sneakers to wear to Zumba class doesn’t feel like the zenith of my time here on the planet.”
He drives home his point in a now-published letter to Amazon founder Steven Bezos, where he carefully analyzes and explains the reason why so many temporary employees do not work to their full potential. They do the bare minimum to get by and nothing more because, ultimately, they are not valued and know that their positions are disposable. “Knowing the job has no future makes it difficult for me to find the motivation to put on my best performance,” he says.
Barker’s essays bear the common thread of his temporary working experiences, and each one tells a story on its own. Various co-workers (or, essentially, characters in their own right) add to these stories. While he eschews the idea of working a full-time job you hate, he instead takes this “temporary” path hoping to find “the one.” He writes: “I was aware society would collapse if everyone only pursued passion projects because a world with more ventriloquists than vegetable pickers was not a better one.”
Ultimately, as the reader follows him from job to job, most will likely agree in hoping that Barker will soon find his passion—his ideal writing career.
Angela earned her master of arts degree in creative writing from Wilkes University under the tutelage of Kaylie Jones and John Bowers. She lives below Blue Mountain in a log home with her husband and three cats, and she works in a delightfully quiet office. In her spare time, she indulges in books, films, ice cream, and making art.
[Angela previously served as a reviewer for Hippocampus for a number of years before moving into the editor role.]