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Reviews / Awards

Exploring bureaucracy with poetry
By Patrick Blennerhassett

Victoria News
Friday, March 21, 2008

Work to live or live to work?

This age old cliché is more prominent that ever in modern society. You either love your job, or you love the pay cheque, or sometimes if you’re extremely lucky, you have your cake and eat it too. Arleen Paré, local author of Paper Trail, a prose/poetry fiction novel that was recently nominated for the B.C. Book Prize Dorothy Livesay Poetry award, used her struggles with careerism as her main muse.

Paper Trail is a series of connected poems and prose about working a management level job, dealing with bureaucracy and those infamous Golden Handcuffs, something Paré encountered first-hand.

“The fact that once you’re in a job that pays well, practically no matter what’s happening to you it’s really hard to leave there,” said Paré. “So you know all kinds of things can happen. Your health can go, it may not be the right fit for you, or you may have done it just for too many years and the fact that you’re getting paid really well just keeps you there.”

The book plays off this in dramatic fashion as the protagonist Frances literally starts to loose parts of her body: fingers, earlobes, toes. There’s also an interesting theme involving her alter-ego having regular conversations with the ghost of Kafka, who is writing the manuscript in which Frances appears. If it sounds complicated it’s actually not, more an interesting take on how we all seem to give so much to our careers these days, leaving little for much else.

“That’s also one of the major themes of the book, how much our work does define us,” she said. “And yet how little we actually talk about it or think about it. We certainly don’t write about it much as a literary subject but it’s huge. In the 20th and 21st century it takes up a lot of people’s time.”

Paré is also writing partly from experience. She’s got over two decades experience working for Social Services in Vancouver, and found after awhile, she just couldn’t do it anymore.

“In my life the thing that gave me the greatest angst and difficulty was my relationship to work,” she said. “It just took up more time then I could bare. It wasn’t that I didn’t think the work was important, and there were lots of things I enjoyed about it. I loved the people that I worked with, but the routine. There was something about the routine after a couple of decades, same time with the alarm clock, the sameness of it – it really got to me.”

So Paré decided to branch out into writing after penning her thesis in adult education at the University of British Columbia. She also took a year-long course at Simon Fraser University’s Writing Department and is finishing up a bachelor of Creative Writing here at theUniversity of Victoria. Paper Trail, which was originally released last year, is kind of an explanation of personal transition from one career to another for Paré.

“There is a definite thread of memoir and autobiographical material in there. And I wrote it partly while I was working, so I was using a lot of the material and ideas from the workplace I worked in.”

Paper Trail is available at Munro’s, Cadboro Bay Books, Bolen Books, the UVic bookstore and at Chapters.