Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review, two novels by Adam Jonathan Kaat: Life on the Grocery Line and The Patron Saints of Grocery

Most novels center around characters with glamorous or exciting lives--people like soldiers, athletes, business tycoons. Often, these characters are handsome or pretty--and enjoy love affairs that are described in detail in these books. 

Other novels, Mark Twain's fiction comes to mind, centers on the common man, such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Or I should of course now say, the common person.

Adam Jonathan Kaat's first two novels, Life on the Grocery Lane and The Patron Saints of Grocery, are also such works. 

Kaat's lead character, an anti-hero of course, is Daniel, a corporate refugee and aspiring novelist from San Francisco who lands in Denver as a front-line employee at the fictional Dream Grocers, which to me appears to be a cross between Whole Foods and Costco.

Daniel, like all of the characters in this book--well, like all people who work in retail--finds himself at Dream Grocers because he needs the money and not because it's a career choice. Daniel starts his new job the same week the COVID-19 lockdowns begin. Suddenly he's an essential worker.

In spite of the pandemic, or maybe more so because of it, a few days into the lockdown the temperament of the upper middle class--and beyond--clientele of Dream Grocers becomes even more sour. 

You've heard of "Karens," the catchall term for snooty and pesty white females, which ironically became cemented into American slang in the pandemic year of 2020. Daniel is told by his co-workers that Dream Grocers have three groups of clientele: Lindas, Daves--who are usually married to each other--and Normans. The former parade their superiority over the rabble who make up the supermarket's workforce as their perceived right.

As Kaat tells us thru Daniel:

When I think of a Linda, I imagine her wearing a fur coat as she walks around a Walmart with her tiny dog. That mutt has a serious viral infection that's contagious, but Linda doesn't care. In her mind, she exemplifies excellence, but in actuality she doesn't possess a single nice or meaningful thing, because everything she claims as her own is painted ugly by her abuse of others. She knows people, and she is known. Respect is expected but not earned, because she tried for a while and stepped on whomever to get where she is now. Continued effort to improve is not in her wheelhouse.

Linda is an idea. She is a caricature of unearned exceptionalism with the demand of a grizzled veteran. She is very American. Wild tastes with a narrow mind. Elite. Unsettling in the truth she reveals about the way we treat others in service positions. Linda is an unexamined life.

I worked many years in retail, and I encountered many Lindas. 

As for the Normans, they're a senior version of the Lindas and Daves. Daniel's first manager, Alejandro, comforts Dave after run-in with one. "He hates his life even as he swims in luxury you could never understand," Alejandro explains, "and at our store, he's the norm."

Daniel's social life is meager---it's centered on his neighbors and other Dream Grocers workers. The lockdowns limit his choices as do the extra hours assigned because of the COVID restrictions. Yet he enjoys a bit of romance, or rather, sex, and a lot of abuse of alcohol and recreational drugs. 

In the second novel, Daniel continues his journey in the aisles as he moves up a wrung on the retail later. During lockdowns, just as in war, promotion comes quickly.

Kaat touches on this sentiment in the introduction of the second edition of Life on the Grocery Line: his two Dream Grocers novels decades from now will probably be viewed by historians as an accurate look of how people endured during the COVID year of 2020. We are approaching the fourth anniversary of the first shelter-in-place orders--and that unhappy time seems so long ago. 

Two thumbs up for two books by Adam Jonathan Kaat from me. And if you've suffered or are still suffering as a retail employee, then you'll give Life on the Grocery Line and The Patron Saints of Grocery four thumbs up.

Life on the Grocery Line and The Patron Saints of Grocery are available at Amazon. 

No comments: