Never mix business with pleasure. That’s the moral of Jessica Westhead’s new office novel Pulpy and Midge, whose titular couple strives to maintain a healthy balance of work and home life. Of course, balance can be hard to come by in a story about wife-swapping with the boss.
Pulpy is a pushover worker bee in an anonymous office, while Midge is his adorable, candle-obsessed wife. Together they present a sweet and sticky ideal of marital fidelity. This idea is threatened by the arrival of Pulpy’s new boss, Dan, whose demands on Pulpy’s personal and professional life put both at risk. Dan has no problem implementing “vision statements,” enforcing potluck lunches, or installing his lascivious wife, Beatrice, into the office’s administration. And following some after-work drinks, Pulpy and Midge discover the boss and his wife want to be more than just friends.
Westhead finds weirdness in the everyday, exploring such universal indignities as forgetting the receptionist’s name or having to stake claim to coffee mugs from the communal kitchen. Despite this familiarity, the book takes on a slightly surreal tone through highly mannered dialogue. The novel’s chief challenge lies in making a passive character compelling, and in that it largely succeeds, through subtle clues that Pulpy and his wife are much more aware than outsiders give them credit for.
By the time Pulpy makes his stand, you’re ready to root for him. However, when Westhead finally delivers the goods, it comes off as anticlimactic. Perhaps this is the result of the novel’s innuendo becoming explicit, as Dan literally lays himself bare. Nonetheless, Pulpy and Midge remains a funny and sympathetic take on the minutiae of modern life.