DiscoverLiterary Fiction

The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter

By Glenn Seerup

Worth reading 😎

A quirky workplace, an odd protagonist/writer and a mysterious deus-ex-machina new employee. Entertaining and different!

Synopsis

Hayden Carlisle, a socially awkward twenty-three year old designer, begins his first professional job at The Plush Porcupine, a boutique, toy design studio in Chicago. Hard times have fallen on the Porcupine and a dark cloud hangs over its future.

Maxine Porter arrives with a mysterious background and an uncanny knack for knowing things. Spellbound by the amazing Max, the eclectic crew at the Porcupine begin to prosper, while continually ruminating over who Max is and where she came from.

Through Hayden’s Journal writing, we learn of the unlikely friendship developing between him and Max.

The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter was a surprising book, that I picked up because it seemed interesting and different based on the plot alone.

I started reading and felt a little pity towards the protagonist, Hayden, who finds it hard to settle in his first job as a graduate. He starts working as a toy designer in a small firm and at the same time starts a "writing project" which results in him being both the protagonist and the external narrator in this book while being pretty alienated in his workplace. I found this dichotomy very interesting, as if the fact he was writing about his experience, which should have made him more aware of it, was really just distancing him from those very colleagues he was so set to write about. As the book goes on, the character of Hayden will grow and manage to redeem himself from this initial struggle.

I've never read a book set in a company that design toys, and to be completely honest it's an unusual setting to me mainly because I have never consciously thought that there might be people out there whose job is to design toys - so this was all very new and fascinating to me. This book was definitely quirky and different, not just because of the setting but also because of the weirdness of each character, their creativity and their somewhat awkward interactions.

I loved the character of Max, who starts working in the company just after Hayden and has this aura of knowing everything and everyone, almost as if she was a psychic or a mind-reader. She was effectively the deus-ex-maxine (pun intended) of this story.

This book was a feel-good light read, that I recommend if you want to read a quirky and interesting story that isn't the same old same old.


Reviewed by

I am a neuroscience student but I have always been a passionate reader and I have read many different book genres. I also write and have done for a very long time. I would definitely say reading and writing are two of my favourite activities, and I don't think this will change anytime soon.

Synopsis

Hayden Carlisle, a socially awkward twenty-three year old designer, begins his first professional job at The Plush Porcupine, a boutique, toy design studio in Chicago. Hard times have fallen on the Porcupine and a dark cloud hangs over its future.

Maxine Porter arrives with a mysterious background and an uncanny knack for knowing things. Spellbound by the amazing Max, the eclectic crew at the Porcupine begin to prosper, while continually ruminating over who Max is and where she came from.

Through Hayden’s Journal writing, we learn of the unlikely friendship developing between him and Max.

Journal Entry: Monday, March 8

I work at the Plush Porcupine. It’s the first line I am writing in my crisp black-and-white-checkered composition notebook. It will also be the first line in my book when I write it. You would expect me to be nervous on my first day at my real job. Not really. I don’t expect to be here for much more than a year.

It’s not that I haven’t worked since my graduation in June. I earned some money working construction with my dad while I looked for a design job, but I hated it and I’m frankly not good at it. Physical labor isn’t my thing. I’m what my dad calls the “artsy fartsy” type. I used to take offense at that but then at some point, I embraced the truth in the statement. The change from construction worker to toy designer suits me perfectly.

Now that I’ve landed this job at the Plush Porcupine, I can put my other plan into motion. Along with my degree in Industrial Design from Iowa State University, I also completed a minor in English with an emphasis on creative writing. My design classmates thought I was nuts to add a minor because Design School is so time-consuming. Most people barely find time to eat and sleep, let alone pursue a second degree. I spent the little time I had reading and writing in lieu of hanging around our studio with the other design majors. They said I missed the social experience but that’s okay. I really didn’t like most of my classmates.

I wanted English to be my major but my parents, counselors, and anybody with an opinion cautioned that books are a dying art, and nobody can succeed as a writer. That’s how I came up with my grand idea to combine my degrees. I think it’s brilliant. I will write a documentary about my first year at the Plush Porcupine. They’ll probably fire me after that, but succeeding will prove to all those who doubted me that writing is a viable option for me. I enjoy design but I’m leery of working in a company. I prefer the solitude of writing. I’ll need to infiltrate my coworkers, get them to trust me and learn all about their personal stories and the drama that goes on in the office. This will be more of a challenge than it seems because in general, I’m not personable or social. I’ve found that with very little effort, I can find things that I don’t like about most anybody.

I arrived for my first day of work with three goals: work hard enough to be a respected employee for at least one year, be personable enough that my coworkers talk to me, and force myself to find at least one good quality about everybody so I don’t dread each moment of being there.

Caryn greeted me when I first arrived. Small in stature, her short-cropped reddish- brown hair and bright, excitable eyes exuded a certain confidence and authority. A young designer, she also acted as the de-facto Office Administrator, answering the phone, greeting guests, and generally doing whatever needed to be done. Even though she was overly perky and energetic, I liked her because she wasn’t phony and didn’t pretend to be important and snotty. She greeted me with genuine enthusiasm and displayed a sense of pride while showing me the office. Maybe she was excited having a new young person around who might be more fun and less stuffy. She obviously didn’t know me yet.

She took me right in to see Walter, who apparently just arrived because he was taking off his roller blades from his commute. His prematurely gray hair wind-blown from his morning skate, he was still catching his breath as he waved me into his office. Not sure if I should enter immediately or give him a minute, I hesitated. His tall, lanky body perched on the edge of his chair, bent over undoing the laces, his chest still heaving up and down. He looked to be in good physical shape for a man probably in his fifties. The thought of this man, the leader of a company, a genuine business professional, roller blading through the city as his preferred method of transportation with his long hair flowing behind him threw me. What would my dad think of Walter?

I had never met Walter in person. We conducted my interview over the telephone. Looking back on it now, I remember it being oddly disjointed, as if he and Scott, who was also on the call, were not really paying attention. Walter mentioned during the interview that they had a position suddenly open, creating an immediate need. He happened upon the digital portfolio that I recently e-mailed to him and decided to give me a call. It all seemed fantastic to me at the time. Now, he seemed to have forgotten who I was and that I was starting work today. He was nice about it and pretended that he was excited to see me but I could see the exhaustion creep into his eyes as he quickly ran out of things to say.

Leading me out to the studio, he handed me off to Scott, who was just as surprised to see me. Scott greeted me with a deep sigh and tired eyes. He stood up from his chaotic desk filled with messy stacks of paper and dirty dishes, ran his fingers through his matted, wiry hair, brushed some crumbs from the front of his shirt, and looked around as if trying to figure out what to do with me. According to Walter, Scott was to set me up with a desk and computer, neither of which were ready.

They didn’t have any projects ready for me to jump into either, so Scott passed me back to Caryn to get a tour of the office, show me where to put my lunch, and get a pen and whatever supplies I might need. Really, they were stalling for Scott. Caryn walked me around and introduced me to everybody else, which only consisted of two other people. Marty, another designer, huddled over her desk looking just as stressed out as Scott. The wrinkles around her eyes betrayed the many years of toiling for this company. Her light brown hair pulled back into a messy ponytail revealed the gray roots close to her scalp. She barely looked up to say hello. Matthew, an energetic, smartly dressed man not much older than me, was much more personable. He greeted me with an emphatic handshake and I couldn’t help but marvel at his perfectly combed, jet-black hair. I felt a little discomforted. I’m always leery of overly excitable people. I found out that his job is handling the marketing side of the the Plush Porcupine, which seems to fit my initial observation of his personality.

With nothing to do for most of the day, I spent most of the time idling in this room in the back of the office. Set up kind of like a Kindergarten classroom, they call it the Play Pen. Filled with toys and miniature tables and chairs, the bright colors on the walls helped cheer me up. They apparently bring kids here to test out new toys. It relaxed me and kept me out of sight for most of the day. So much for trying to ingratiate myself with everybody, this is going to be harder than I thought. It’s only day one.

About the author

After over twenty-five years as an accomplished architect , Glenn Seerup has returned to his first passion, the written word. Successfully publishing his first novel in 2017 to rave reviews, a second novel, The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter, is due for release in the fall of 2019. view profile

Published on October 11, 2019

90000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Literary Fiction

Reviewed by

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