The next time you find yourself in a bar, consider buying a drink for the owner, because it’s likely he or she needs it more than you. At least, that’s what writer and Q&Q contributing editor Nathan Whitlock leads you to believe in his second novel. Centred on Jeremy, the owner of the Ice Shack, a fictional Toronto watering hole, Congratulations on Everything is rife with humour, heartbreak, ambition, and failure.
As a middle-aged, service-industry lifer, Jeremy dedicates himself to two things: not conforming to a conventional lifestyle, and serving others. The Ice Shack acts as Jeremy’s respite from the restrictions of a 9-to-5 job, yet he is hobbled by the realities of the service industry, which include the inability to fulfill his desperate desire to please everyone at all times. Jeremy makes it his mission to ensure every employee, customer, and financial stakeholder is given the best customer service possible, but this mission is clearly doomed to failure.
Jeremy approaches his calling as a game, as if continually rolling a set of dice in hopes the odds will favour him. More often than not, the outcome is unfavourable, which only seems to reinforce Jeremy’s painful desire to succeed. The notion that his life is a mere game is made explicit during a speech he gives to a private gathering: “Winners focus on winning because losing takes care of itself. I really believe that, because I’m not a fucking loser.” Whether that statement rings true is left open for debate; Whitlock forces his readers to decide what constitutes success: scoring the most points or simply agreeing to continue playing the game.
Congratulations on Everything solidly reassures the reader that success isn’t measurable, and not all triumphs will be greeted with enthusiasm, or even noticed. The book reminds us that all of our efforts deserve the clink of a glass and a round of congratulations. “Congratulations on everything. Congratulations for the sake of congratulations.”