May 2009

D. Richard Scannell

fiction

Overqualified by Joey Comeau

“Live for today, you retarded little shit. The end is near.” That’s essentially the moral of Overqualified, the third solo release from Joey Comeau, co-creator of the comic A Softer World. The book is a progression of employment-seeking cover letters, which provide a foundation for jokes, introspection, or a combination of the two.

The primary goal of this book is to get laughs. The Joey Comeau of these letters is isolated and paranoid and liberated by his confidence in the indifference of those who will receive his applications. Hence, he applies for a linguistics professorship with a two-page, run-on sentence and he applies to Greenpeace with a story about how he got himself in the eye while trying to watch his own cumshot.

These letters represent an opportunity to finally communicate with the big faceless names of the modern world like Goodyear, Xerox, and Apple. Comeau gets things off his chest and shares some great ideas that will never happen like this one in his letter to Nintendo:

We need a new Mario game where you rescue the princess in the first ten minutes, and for the rest of the game you try to push down that sick feeling in your stomach telling you she’s “damaged goods”

Or this concept for a Hallmark greeting card:

Front cover is a pretty butterfly, pinned under glass. The text reads, “I love you.” There is no text inside.

Some of the best humor in the book falls somewhere between funny and perverse, as in the letter to Gillette urging them to bring back the straight razor:

You want romance? Nobody gives a fuck about kisses. Gillette razors in bed, cutting while they move against one another. Both of them tearing open, bright and bleeding, eyes wide. Sex, Gillette. Sex.

Comeau is at his best when he invokes the brevity and punch of a comic strip, but this book isn’t strictly a humor book. Its proper place, its desired place, is on the fiction shelves. Overqualified is funny, sure, but the book is intended to be approached as a novel in letters. That said, it’s in this very department, the novel in the letters, in which the book is weakest. The Joey Comeau of these letters is dealing with three basic issues: he’s unemployed; his brother was killed by a drunk driver; he struggles with relationships. There’s a lack of imagination at work here, which means that when he’s not cracking jokes, the book tends to flatten, relying too much on nostalgia, quirk, and watered-down existentialism. Sometimes the introspective parts do work, though, as in the letter to General Electric about throwing things off the public balconies of nearby apartment buildings. It effectively combines emotion and action and captures a moment. You could imagine a hiring manager at GE seeing the letter, frowning, reading it, and maybe actually feeling something before letting it fall into the recycling box.

There’s not enough here though. It’s a shame that Comeau didn’t sit on this idea longer before seeking publication. The letters still feel too much like the Internet serial they began as. Had he waited and developed the concept into something richer and longer, something that would take advantage of the longer attention spans of print readers, he might have been able to produce something more like Saul Bellow’s Herzog and less like a humor book with character development. I don’t think Joey Comeau would pay real money for this 96-page book. He would probably steal it or borrow it from the library and draw dirty pictures on the blank pages. But then again, this book will probably be hard to find on bookshelves outside of Canada. Do what you think is right.

Overqualified by Joey Comeau
ECW Press
ISBN: 1550228587
96 pages