by Guy Cranswick
Guy Cranswick lives in Sydney and has also lived
in London and Paris. Apart from English he speaks French and Italian --
and survival German. In addition to Corporate, he has
written screenplays and a novel, My
Wife, My Job, My Shoes. His short fiction has been
published in Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Australia.
with Guy Cranswick
"As Penny was discharged
from the city station with her professional cohorts, she saw several
people amongst the crowd who worked for the company. They filled the
streets like liquid, already under the shadow of the great Schale
building which dominated the river area. Its bulk conveyed a feeling of
profound grandeur directly to Penny. Along with hundreds of other
people, she was being drawn into the massive edifice. These bodies were
moving into a larger corporation, swelling the office space and
corridors and meeting rooms."
Reviewed by A.J. Kirby
1. Formed into a corporation; incorporated.
2. Of or relating to a corporation.
3. United or combined into one body.
4. Of or relating to a corporative government or political system.
Guy Cranswick's new collection of short fiction, Corporate, is at
the same time a "body" of stories as well as a set of stories about the
human body and what happens to it when external forces such as work,
relationships, modernity and culture come into play. It is about bodies
decaying, putting on weight, being shoehorned into soulless
workstations. It's about the contortions bodies go through during sex,
about rapidly-developing paunches. It's about shovelling food down
one's throat in order to counter the bleak world which his characters
Variously, we encounter men who are approaching or passing through mid
life crises, who are approaching or have reached death. Men, and
Cranswick's characters are primarily men save one obvious exception,
who have been numbed to the world around them. Men who struggle to find
a language to describe that world even if they are aware of it. Men who
have been pushed to the brink, to the point where their bodies have
given up / are about to give up.
Often these endings are karmic, and often they make for uncomfortable
reading, as in the longest story in the collection, the almost
which lurches from stolen-weekend sex romp to something else entirely.
Paul, the first person narrator's fall starts with his partner Anna's
purchase of a mould of his erect penis in a sex shop (one kind of
absence) through his sickening "punishment" of her (his complicity in
her rape, when he is again absent) until he suffers his narratively
justified paralysis (when his body becomes both uncontrollably present
and yet absent at the same time.)
is not alone in its unflinching analysis of corporeality. A number of
the stories in here are rather unpalatable and the collection is
certainly not one for the more squeamish of readers. Having said that,
there is an undeniable quality to Cranswick's writing and something
admirable about the way in which he refuses to back down from his
confrontation of bodily truths; his characters shit themselves in bed,
suffer terrible indigestion, cramps, insomnia. He holds the gaze of
death for far longer than many writers would dare.
As a general rule, the previously published stories (and there are
three of them, Complete
(With Notes) which featured in Invisible Ink, Still, which
featured on the website AustralianReader.com, and Vorgetfuhle which
featured in Walnut Literary Review) are stronger than the
previously unpublished, which stands to reason, as some sort of quality
control has been placed on the stories. However, this is not your
stereotypical self-published book either. Cranswick is, by all
accounts, a very forward-thinking writer. He has, for example, eschewed
the traditional "path to publication" as suffered by many a writer and
has instead embraced new technologies. He's used, for example, the
bit-torrent websites (famously used for illegal music downloads) to
allow as many readers as he can to encounter his work and has spread
his name liberally across the internet. He's a shrewd customer and
certainly one we can expect to hear a lot more from in the future.
And if the final story of the collection, the title story, is anything
to go by, what we'll hear will be great. Corporate is by far
the strongest piece in the collection, the one which ties all the
themes together and adds coherency to the whole. It is a story which
takes for a theme the hostile takeover, the incorporation, of human
body into a larger edifice, the faceless, shapeless mass which is the
corporate world of work.
It is the story of Penny (the one brilliant exception to the "mostly
men" rule) who works for the behemoth multinational Schale Company (who
have "offices in Houston, Azerbidjan (sic.), Capetown, Istanbul,
Bogota, Tokyo, Sydney, Freetown and several other cities".) So big is
Schale it could "proclaim that almost no one could pass a day without
using one of its products." And into this gaping capitalist maw bodies,
like Penny's, are subsumed, consumed, crushed, and then re-packaged to
fit. This is a place in which people become a number, a function, one
of the "forty-one thousand" workers worldwide. Here, the world of work
stereotypes people, massages all individuality out of them, leaving us
nothing but a homogenous mess. It's both a bitingly humorous satire and
devastatingly chilling almost-too-close-to-the-bone account of working
is delivered in a series of emails, and at first look the email style
seems to jar. However, the deeper one delves into this murky world, the
more we can see that there is something very clever going on here
stylistically. Workers at Schale can't get outside the box of
corporate-speak and ways of working. These are messages from
"Communications Management", or from Big Brother. It is the only
language they have to hand to describe the environment which closes
them in from every side.
Over the course of this non-linear story, we discover more about Penny
and how "the machine" acted upon her. We learn about her overly
complicated recruitment process which contains psychological profiling
the FBI would be proud of:
"She was nervous before the test: what if they discovered something
embarrassing? She was reassured that no answer was the right answer but
she doubted it, somehow she must find out the right answers or she
might lose her opportunity."
And then, when she's called to be offered the job, she whoops with joy,
which she knows is the expected and therefore "right response." Already
she is being shaped, pigeon-holed.
She enters the world of work and quickly falls into the expected
routine; everyday the 7.55 commute, everything in her life neatly
compartmentalised, like a spreadsheet. She is inducted
(brainwashed).into the world of Company-speak:
"Unusually in such rational circumstances poetic metaphor was spoken
such that, an opportunity was a window; fruit was typically
low-hanging; or roads, paths and tracks were regular choices for any
And starts to crane her body into clothes so she fits in:
"She knew it was not necessarily a good thing to be tall but she
believed she achieved a better proportion between her upper body and
legs when she was in high heels."
And then there's the gym. She tells her friends the gym is "a form of
punishment". She feels a pressure, a moral urge to exercise, despite
the fact the running hurts her knees. She sets herself work-like
targets in and outside the gym: "Rules could be applied to everything;
there was no part of life that did not have or require a rule to make
it more pleasant." And starts to scorn people "who deviated from her
own behaviour", and who don't play by the same rules.
It's all about control; Cranswick creates within Schale a hierarchy
based on structures and memes which to the outsider seem vaguely
ridiculous and patently funny:
"Plain biscuits were permitted for most of Penny's meetings. Only the
most senior executives could request biscuits with cream filled centres
or a chocolate outer coating."
Nevertheless Penny seems happy. Life is chugging along. Until Cranswick
jars us out of our comfort zone by starting to insert emails we've
already read into the narrative. At first, most readers will read this
as a mistake, but it starts to happen so frequently over the closing
pages that it becomes obvious something deeper is at play here.
Cranswick deftly suggests the mind-numbing mundanity of this
commuta-existence, the soullessness of the workstations and Penny's
colleagues through sheer repetition. The repetition hardens and becomes
a powerful train of dissatisfaction. Slowly, we begin to learn that
something is not right with Penny; the oblique references to her having
to move away and her marital break-up. Her obsessive compulsion. The
reader starts to see a very different Penny, one whose body and mind
have been bent all out of shape.
is a collection which is a must-read for anyone who works in a similar
multinational company, a salient warning, if one were needed, about
what can happen to us if we allow our true selves to be eaten up by the
nine to five.