The Cube People

By Christian McPherson

The title The Cube People has a double meaning in Ottawa writer Christian McPherson’s first novel. Most obviously it refers to the hero, Colin MacDonald, and his fellow cubicle dwellers who work as code monkeys for the Ministry of Revenue Collection. But The Cube People is also the title of an SF novel Colin has written and is trying to get published. Both this book and a Stephen King-style work in progress named Hungry Hole offer imaginative parallels to the bleak reality of Colin’s de-humanizing, bureaucratic existence.

The life-among-the-bean-counters part of the book is well managed and entertaining, even if office comedy is by now familiar fictional terrain. Colin’s fellow employees are the usual set of eccentrics trying to escape the soul-destroying routine of their jobs, which in this case means coping with the absurdity of a “Paperless Office” directive and trying to avoid serving on the Refrigerator Committee. Not much work seems to be getting done, but Colin seems more interested in his collection of rejection letters from Canadian small presses to really care.

The other part of the novel deals with life on the home front, and Colin and his wife Sarah’s vigorous efforts to procreate. The hungry hole here is a cruder metaphor, and the humour a bit unsettling at times in its frank description of reproductive mechanics, but the comic evocation of domestic routines makes for an interesting counterpoint with the rest of the book. Meanwhile, the sex is funny (if too functional to be much fun for the participants), and Colin’s mother-in-law is, as expected, a horror.

What ties everything together is the character of Colin, a dutiful, well-meaning type who acts as a pivot of sanity for the chaos to swirl around. And despite the raw moments, the conclusion is a good-natured affirmation of his core family values.

Review first published in Quill & Quire, January 2011. This book was a surprising departure from McPherson’s dark debut short story collection, Six Ways to Sunday. I wonder what happened.

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