In this unflinching depiction of the daily rat race grind, the absurd meets the ordinary. A work of poetic prose, Arleen Paré’s Paper Trail transforms the banal into the lyrical and drudgery into literature. Indeed, Franz Kafka makes recurrent appearances as a kind of muse to the harried and weary narrator, a middle-aged woman who is trying to cope with being overworked and unmotivated.
While the subject matter may seem off-putting at first (who wants to read about work when they’ve just spent a day at the office?), anyone who has held a job they didn’t love will quickly feel a connection to the narrator’s plight. Shackled by a Stockholm Syndrome–esque relationship with a job that is slowly destroying her, the narrator feels like a fraud. This Cinderella complex haunts her, and she fears that her incompetence will be found out at any moment.
The strength of this work is its experimental nature. Paré not only employs Kafka and his writing as creative inspiration, but she also plays with self-reference as a literary device. Kafka writes a story about the narrator, which he presents to her. But the narrator is also writing a story about herself, a book which she hopes will enable her to quit her thankless job as a manager in the housing department of the Canadian government. The story feels autobiographical, not only because of the similarities between Paré’s educational background in social work and the narrator’s employment, but also because the publication of Paper Trail was presumably Paré’s first step in escaping the 9 to 5. This kind of mise en abyme makes for a consuming read.