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Waiting for the Man

by Arjun Basu

At an historical moment when everyone demands to be perceived as special and kids grow up wanting only to be famous, Montreal writer Arjun Basu’s debut novel ponders the possibility of escaping the ennui of modern life, where the safe, corporate dream jobs of our parents don’t offer the expected fulfillment.

Joe is a first-generation American who has a comfortable advertising job in New York City, though, like most corporate drones, his life feels empty. Stuck in a rut, Joe begins to dream of a mysterious figure. The Man, as he is later dubbed, tells him, simply, to wait. So Joe moves to the front steps of his apartment building and awaits further instruction. Attention from curious onlookers and the media soon follows, and Joe becomes a sensation by doing nothing.

Simply dropping out of the rat race isn’t an option for everyone, and existential angst is the playground of the well off, but Joe seems unaware of how privileged he is. He is caged by too many choices, while remaining blind to the fact that he’s inexpressibly lucky to have those choices available to him. 

Perhaps the dark subtext to this entertaining novel is that movement is impossible, even for many seemingly privileged boys. Despite running from the American Dream, Joe can’t do anything but replicate it. He embarks on an archetypal road trip in a sponsored minivan, eats at gaudy family restaurants, and is unable to stop writing taglines for products. When his experiment in opting out concludes, he remains an affable cipher and even finds himself “falling up” in life.

Joe is a manifestation of the modern American Dream, and Waiting for the Man hides a chilling truth under its light-hearted surface: the American Dream is a trap.

Due to an error at the editorial stage, an earlier version of this review mistakenly identified the author's place of residence as Toronto. Q&Q regrets the error.