Working Class Zero


265 pages
ISBN 0-00-639246-6
DDC C813'.6





Reviewed by Douglas Ivison

Douglas Ivison is an assistant professor of English at Lakehead
University in Thunder Bay.


Rob Payne’s second novel tells the story of Jay Thompson, a low-level
supervisor in the head office of a Toronto bank. Opening as a humorous,
if not particularly original, satire on corporate cubicle life, Working
Class Zero gradually expands its focus as 30-year-old Jay experiences an
early midlife crisis.

At work, Jay is given a promotion (but no pay increase) to manager of
the Temporary Call Centre for Loan Decline Notification. At home, his
relationship with his girlfriend (a doctoral student in English
Literature/Antisocial Neglect of Her Life Partner) is growing
increasingly cold and distant. His younger brother, a roadie for a rock
band, announces his impending marriage; more important, the band asks
Jay’s permission to record one of the songs he wrote and recorded with
his old band, Archangel, thus reviving Jay’s dormant rock-star
fantasies. Then there are his divorced parents, who intervene in his
life in predictably awful ways.

Payne’s novel is at its best in detailing the absurdities,
frustrations, and occasional rewards of life in the office-tower
cubicles and high-rise apartments of downtown Toronto. As a portrait of
office life, however, it rarely rises above the level of a good sitcom,
and it lacks the brilliance and depth of the BBC series The Office, for
example. The characters rarely rise above the level of sitcom types and
Jay is less interesting than similar figures in the works of Nick Hornby
or Douglas Coupland. In short, Working Class Zero is an entertaining but
slight work.


Payne, Rob., “Working Class Zero,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 13, 2024,