Upon finishing Hilary Leichter’s debut novel Temporary, I was left with two questions. The first was, “Do I hate this?” But then the second was, “Do I love this?” And it was with these two questions that I sought out an answer, turning to my best friend, detailing all the idiosyncrasies I could remember, trying to make sense of the plot to the best of my abilities, then ending with the phrase, “It’s as if Alice in Wonderland and The Odyssey hooked up at a party and conceived a child who, out of shame, tried their hardest to become a functioning member of society.” Then I realized that I loved this book that manages to create fantastical lore out of the banality of office work, that idealizes the working class experience without being condescending, that offers whimsy to failure.
Temporary is like that friend you really like because she talks a lot. She’s a great time and drops nuggets of wisdom with the same facility as she does a joke. She takes herself seriously enough, but at the same time, you know that, first and foremost, she actually just really wants to have fun. She says things like, “You can call me Harold. After all, I’m not a barnacle anymore” (121), and later says, “I feel my face and I don’t know how it’s positioned in relation to the sun. This lack of perspective somehow makes me hopeful. I’m a seed unsprouted” (128). She’s a lot like her unnamed protagonist, in between worlds and not quite fitting into one mold, constantly sifting through different territories while in search for some unknown Truth—a manic pixie dream girl if she were given respect, depth, and a story to call her own.
Temporary is a self-proclaimed commentary on late capitalism that follows the life (or possibly and more aptly, the journey) of a young woman who is trapped in a rut of temporary jobs when what she truly wants is a steady career, or what she refers to as “the steadiness.” In “Onboarding,” the first chapter of the book, the reader is given a cryptic overview of each of the protagonist’s quests-to-come: “There was the assassin. There was the child. There was the marketing and fundraising and also the development” (1). Then once the reader is taken along on these quests, they find it’s nothing like what they’d assume something entailing an assassin, a child, marketing, fundraising, and development to be. Instead, she boards a pirate ship, becomes a human barnacle, works for a witch, and steals a pair of shoes. On each of these quests, one can’t help but wonder where our protagonist really is and what is really going on. What position is she really holding in each of the quests? Does it matter? Are not all temporary positions the same, but different in the ways that they drain us?
Leichter never answers any of these questions. Instead, she gives answers to questions she wrote herself in the last chapter, “Exit Interview,” touching on subjects like death, how experiences can form one’s identity, and the aforementioned “steadiness”. It left me partially unsatisfied. I was curious about these questions, and I found no way to connect the backstory of the gods and the temporaries (that showed up rather late in the book) to the story of a woman who just wanted stability and normalcy.
And despite this, I couldn’t deny that along this journey, I laughed at the absurdities of each event, felt our heroine’s frustrations, understood when she threw herself into a jog that lasted for days, was dazed when she floated from a blimp, through moral clouds, and into a burrow in the ground. Somehow not answering any of the questions that the book raises throughout the narrative is a question raised itself. After all, do we ever find the answers posed to us during life or do we just wing it along the way, hoping the answers find us?
Nicole Rivera-García is a Dominican-Boricua writer and creative writing student in Miami University-Oxford. She has been published in Illuminati.