gimmethatbook

Reviews of what you should be reading next.

Month: February 2019

Walmart: Diary of an Associate by Hugo Meunier

In 2012, journalist Hugo Meunier went undercover as a Walmart employee for three months in St. Leonard, Quebec, just north of Montreal.
In great detail, Meunier charts the daily life of an impoverished Walmart worker, referring to his shifts at the box store giant as “somewhere between the army and Walt Disney.” Each shift began with a daily chant before bowing to customer demands and the constant pressure to sell. Meanwhile Meunier and his fellow workers could not afford to shop anywhere else but Walmart, further indenturing them to the multi-billion-dollar corporation.
Beyond his time on the shop floor, Meunier documents the extraordinary efforts that Walmart exerts to block unionization campaigns, including their 2005 decision to close their outlet in Jonquiere, QC, where the United Food and Commercial Workers union had successfully gained certification rights. A decade later he charts the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that exposed the dubious legal ground on which Walmart stood in invoking closure and throwing workers out on the street.
In Walmart: Diary of an Associate, Meunier reveals the truths behind Walmart’s low prices; it will make you think twice before shopping there.

 

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

Walmart is famous throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico for its low prices. However, they are also famous for low wages and demanding, wacky customers. (A glance at the site PeopleOfWalmart.com may tell you all you need to know). In this book, journalist Hugo Meunier goes undercover for 3 months as a Walmart associate, then emerges to tell us all about the good, the bad, and the ugly behind the scenes.

The corporation at the top is a warm, family-oriented company. At the store level, it is a place where low pay and hard work go hand in hand. There are stories of employees who cannot afford good food, despite the generous 10% off card they are given. There is an almost cultlike atmosphere in team meetings each morning (Give me a W! Give me an A! Give me an L …) and each associate is encouraged to tattle on those team members who “steal time”. Heavy, heavy emphasis is placed on the customer always being right, with posters in the break room exhorting staff to remember that “The most important person you will meet is your next customer”. Meunier portrays the clientele as brutish, demanding, and thankless. That sounds like most customers in retail – but to hear the author’s inner monologue as he complies with their demands is funny. This monologue will also be familiar to those who work in any service industry.

Something struck me amongst all the descriptions of hard work, lazy colleagues, clueless managers, and low pay. The author is someone with a good paying job and a high-end lifestyle – so the juxtaposition between his real job and his Walmart job is telling. He even notes that he misses sleeping in and not having to punch a clock.  Perhaps the most elitist moment is when he notes the difference between Walmart’s and his newspaper’s holiday party. One is filled with wine, truffles and caviar…and the other is not. Can you guess which is which? His reassuring thoughts to himself are that soon he will be able to leave the world of Walmart behind and return to his normal, happy, financially secure life. As he described his fatigue, aching feet and lack of sleep I thought to myself, This is what most of the US consists of – perhaps there needs to be reform?

Speaking of reform, Walmart believes unions are anathema and supports the illegal practice of squashing union talk. On the surface they claim to be open-minded, yet there is a top secret procedure that managers need to follow immediately when they hear talk of organizing. The final chapters of the book describe a hard-fought battle between the retail giant and some employees who wanted to unionize. If most of the book did not depress you, this portion will.

Most of the blurbs that surround this book note that you will never think of Walmart in the same way again. I will say that I wasn’t that surprised at some of the things I learned, except for the way the store demands associates interact with customers. I have never been smiled at or addressed first at my local store – perhaps it is a kinder world in Canada.

Final thoughts – this book is a quick and easily digested read about the class difference and extreme profit seeking of a major corporation. I would have liked if the author followed up in 6 months with his former co-workers to provide a bit more closure to his readers. In any case, it will be interesting to see how/if Walmart responds to the book (despite the fact that it came out a while ago in Canada and was recently translated to English).

You can pick up your own copy here.

Late Air by Jaclyn Gilbert

 

Jaclyn Gilbert’s piercing and lyrically compelling debut novel boutmarriage, loss, and finding the path home again.

Murray has always known how to suppress his pain.

In the shadows of a predawn run, a man tries to escape what he can’t control: His failed marriage. Grief. Even his own weakness. Murray is a college running coach insistent on his relentless training regimen and obsessed with his star athlete—until he finds her crumpled and unresponsive during a routine practice one morning.

Unable to avoid or outrun reality, Murray is forced to face the consequences of a terrible accident from the past…and his own increasingly tenuous grip on life.

In her debut novel, author Jaclyn Gilbert weaves together the strands of two lives that form a union as finely nuanced and delicate as a spider’s web―and just as vulnerable. Following the relationship of Murray and his ex-wife, Nancy, in alternating narratives, we experience their early moments of hope and desire as well as their fears and failings. With poignancy and grace, Late Air traces the collapse of a marriage, exhausted by time and trauma, and one couple’s journey to regain their footing.

Thanks to NetGalley for this ARC!

LATE AIR is at once a book about obsession, grief, and lack of communication. Collegiate running coach Murray is struggling with multiple issues, while his ex-wife Nancy has her own demons. The story is told from multiple points of view, slowly describing the events that caused the marriage to fail and the residual damage they sustained.

As Murray is trying to cope mentally with the severe injury of his star runner, Nancy is trying to banish her own thoughts of the marriage, the tragedies within, and the lack of communication between her and Murray.

I will say that to me, Murray was a very sympathetic character and Nancy was not. She seemed dramatic and overly needy. Yes, Murray was an obsessive and at times obtuse – but I feel if Nancy had tried to talk more openly with Murray instead of wishing he would do this or say that, things would have had a fighting chance. The issues within their marriage were complicated by an event that irreversibly changed them both – and certainly many marriages have failed for the same exact reason – but what complicates matters is the utter lack of communication between Murray and Nancy. It seems that they were on their best behavior when they got married but slowly settled into the patterns of who they really were. Murray was always obsessed with lists, running,  and time, while Nancy was seeking outward affection from a man who seemed unable to give it. She is so in need of feeling wanted and loved that she ends up worse off after her divorce. Her relationship with an utterly shallow man illustrates just how far a woman can fall when she is ruled by her emotions.

The main reason I wanted to read the book was the running and coaching storyline. The author does an excellent job of tying in his coaching duties spiraling into decompensation and showing us how he becomes detached from his team even as he prepares the girls for important races. The training parts of LATE AIR were true to life and much more interesting than some other parts of the book.

I will say that the book is well written, despite my lukewarm reaction to the storyline. Gilbert is adept at diving down into the deepest recesses of pain, bringing the hurt up to the surface again and again. Her ability to focus and illuminate emotions is intense, yet beautiful. I’ll definitely be looking out for her next work.

Want your own copy? You can pick it up here.

 

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