You Look Nice Today: A Novel, by Stanley Bing, is indeed a novel, but it is a strange one in both conception and construction. From the first, it reads like a corporate manual, management handbook, or lessons learned white paper. Not that that’s a bad thing! For those of us used to perusing such documents, the book settles quickly into an easy read. Those looking for not quite such an impersonal tome to relax with will be reassured to hear that it also relaxes into a more narrative style after a few chapters. (Bing is himself a corporate executive and the author of several management books as well, which makes reading this book a bit like peeking into the papers of a manager at a big corporation. In a good way.)
The book begins with the reminiscence of the narrator, Fred Tell, who sounds for all the world as if he’s writing the aforementioned white paper on lessons learned from the perspective of a Human Resources professional. Now, wait, don’t click away yet — while the story begins slowly, with the hiring of a surprisingly competent secretary, it picks up speed with the first few chapters and soon sends the reader hurtling through a legal drama that draws the reader in, further and further, as the brief presentation of documents and testimony reveals more and more juicy details.
What made me really enjoy this book was its dry, unexpected wit, inserted as asides here and there within the text that made me laugh entirely too much for the subject at hand. Bing has a way with words, and his subtle humor tickled my funny bone more than once. Here are a few choice excerpts that may illustrate this, the changing tone as the book deepens and darkens, and the slight amusement of the narrator with the corporate culture and the role that he plays in it:
The only difference in her comportment, perhaps, was a tendency to sit and stare into the middle distance without expression when she believed no one was looking at her. I was, however, and the general effect this expression produced was truly pathetic, even in an individual as hardened to employee suffering as am I. (page 40)
How are you doing? I said to her when she first appeared back at her desk.
“Righteous.” She seemed to be telling herself a little secret.
“In the biblical sense?”
“I ate a lot of peanuts….” (page 58)
Now imagine, if you will, Harb in his car. He is driving, and by that I mean that he is sitting quite still. He would be making better progress if he was, in fact, walking. And he is not a fast walker. (page 112)
We will now break until 2 p.m.,” Lerner said, and I could almost taste the cheeseburger in his mind. (page 260, but the more interesting text is on page 261, perilously close to the conclusion of the novel, so I won’t excerpt it here.)
In the end, the businesslike description of a handful of people in rather ordinary circumstances quickly becomes a whirling story both compelling and captivating, particularly for those with interest in corporate life or legal dramas. You Look Nice Today: A Novel was an engaging read that I found hard to put down and even harder to forget.
This book was published in 2004, but since I’ve had two kids since then (!), I’m a little behind in my reading. This book really impressed me, though, and I wanted to let you know about it now that it’s on the sale racks here and there and at Amazon as well.