DiscoverLiterary Fiction

To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel

By Scott Semegran

Worth reading 😎

A funny and cheery novel about reaching for the unattainable in a modern and urban society.

Synopsis

This is the story of J. D. Wiswall, a sincere young man from a small town, who joins a state government agency in a data entry department comprised of quirky clerks. Quickly endearing himself to the diverse group in Unit 3, J. D. learns his coworkers have a pact to share the $10,000 prize if they win a cost-savings program for a suggestion that could save the government money, in turn helping them rise above their own personal struggles. A multimillion-dollar cost-savings suggestion is accidentally discovered by J. D.'s supervisor, the goof-off alcoholic Brent Baker. This lucrative discovery catches the attention of crotchety Governor Dwayne Bennett, a media-hungry demagogue, who turns the coworkers of Unit 3 into props for his selfish political reasons. The publicity surrounding the clerks piques the interest of a newspaper reporter, Esther Jean Stinson, whose investigative reporting threatens to reveal the governor's career-ending secret, as well as jeopardizes the prize that the clerks so desperately desire.

From award-winning writer Scott Semegran, To Squeeze a Prairie Dog is an American, modern-day tale with working-class folks—part fable, part satire, and part comedy—revealing that camaraderie amongst kind-hearted friends wins the day over evil intentions.

Scott Semegran’s To Squeeze A Prairie Dog is a lighthearted, easy-to-read novel about J.D., a young man who arrives in Austin from the small town of Brady to work in the offices of the Texas Department of Unemployment and Benefits — or "T-DUB." The people in the office, from all walks of life, become his closest friends and experience life together in a way that is very thoughtful and quite funny. The novel features a unique late-adulthood twist on the classic coming-of-age theme, and its collection of quirky characters adds texture to what would be an otherwise unremarkable tale of working as a state employee.


The writing is simple, cheerful, and easy to follow, making it a very pleasant read. However, at times it seems to gloss over the characters' frustration when they grapple with tough situations, giving the impression of a cheerfully detached narrator providing a voice over of the story's events. The cheerful tone offers satirical contrast to the themes of corruptible politics and bureaucracy — but doesn't quite hit the mark in terms of portraying layered characters. It is also clear that Semegran clearly does not know what women do in their free time. The shady reporter Esther Jean operates purely on clichés of female preferences and attitudes, without any underlying authenticity. The clichés include, but are not limited to: owning a cat, drinking wine while sending emails and elaborately applying makeup — all with equal dedication, going clubbing on her own every night, thinking every male wants to sleep with her, owning rustic vintage furniture, and having “daddy issues”. The daddy issues are mentioned in passing, and serve no purpose at all in either the scene or the story. This is a habit of the writing overall: to provide unnecessary information, and repeat what has already been expressed in dialogue.


There are several key premises which the novel focuses on, the most interesting of which centers around food. Food is a constant source of companionship, and the most important interpersonal bonding practice. Semegran positions food as a crucial building block of the self and the community — indeed, food is even more skilled at bringing the characters together than the very space in which they work. The idea of food is even the main generator of action in the novel; snacking in order to converse by taking a break from work, going out for lunch and beer, grandchildren having dinner, parents bringing their child a meal, parents sending snacks by post, family and friends eating at a gathering, etc. This provides a strong, underlying sense of warmth throughout the novel, which is creatively accomplished. Another main premise is the social satire on the attainability/unattainability of hopes and dreams in a modern urban society. The book portrays politics and bureaucracy as directly opposed to personal success or financial achievement, and the happy, gleeful tone in which insurmountable desires are approached throughout the book places emphasis the story's moral: that life is all about living in the moment rather than focusing on an end goal.  


To Squeeze a Prairie Dog places all this in early 2000's Austin, with a pervading sense that the notion of "endless chasing" is what it means to be American. It earnestly asks: what is modern life but an elaborate — and at times sad — joke? If you are looking for an entertaining, cheerful, but truly thought-provoking reflection of modern life, this book is right for you.   

Reviewed by

A literature postgraduate. I'm very passionate about all kinds of literature and film. I enjoy editing, reading, and writing creative and informative content to the best of my abilities. Originality, vision, insight, and entertainment are priorities for me. #Scifi, #travelogues, and #earlymodern

Synopsis

This is the story of J. D. Wiswall, a sincere young man from a small town, who joins a state government agency in a data entry department comprised of quirky clerks. Quickly endearing himself to the diverse group in Unit 3, J. D. learns his coworkers have a pact to share the $10,000 prize if they win a cost-savings program for a suggestion that could save the government money, in turn helping them rise above their own personal struggles. A multimillion-dollar cost-savings suggestion is accidentally discovered by J. D.'s supervisor, the goof-off alcoholic Brent Baker. This lucrative discovery catches the attention of crotchety Governor Dwayne Bennett, a media-hungry demagogue, who turns the coworkers of Unit 3 into props for his selfish political reasons. The publicity surrounding the clerks piques the interest of a newspaper reporter, Esther Jean Stinson, whose investigative reporting threatens to reveal the governor's career-ending secret, as well as jeopardizes the prize that the clerks so desperately desire.

From award-winning writer Scott Semegran, To Squeeze a Prairie Dog is an American, modern-day tale with working-class folks—part fable, part satire, and part comedy—revealing that camaraderie amongst kind-hearted friends wins the day over evil intentions.

1.

When J. D. Wiswall arrived outside the building of the Texas Department of Unemployment and Benefits in downtown Austin, Texas, he already needed to go to the bathroom, his bladder full from drinking thirty-two ounces of soda during lunch—something that sounded good at the time but had become an unfortunate inconvenience. He was excited to start his first day of work but his excitement had gotten the best of him. He simply ate and drank too much, something he was prone to do all too often.

Dang it! he thought. Even when he cussed in his mind, his cussing was toned down as if someone might hear him.

He ascended the granite steps to the building entrance with trepidation, his left hand over his gut, his right hand clinching his lunch box full of afternoon snacks: roasted pecans, pecan rolls, and pecan pralines. He loved pecans; they fondly reminded him of his rural hometown: Brady, Texas. Inside the great, granite building, the mustiness of decades of public service molested his nostrils, but he was determined to relieve his bladder before starting his new job. He approached the only person he thought could help him: a security guard. The black fellow in uniform manned a desk—holding a telephone receiver to the side of his weary head with one hand and supporting his body with the other hand planted on the desktop—and spotted J. D. as he frantically approached him. The security guard’s name was Emmitt, as stated on a name tag pinned to his starched white shirt. Emmitt raised a patient index finger to J. D., indicating silently to wait for him to get off the phone. J. D. danced impatiently. Soon, Emmitt hung up.

“Can I help you?” he said, flashing a pleasant, toothy smile.

“Is there a restroom I can use?” J. D. said, still dancing a urination two-step.

“Well, that depends if you have business here today.”

“Excuse me?” J. D. said, his face flushed.

“Do you have business here today at the Texas Department of Unemployment and Benefits?”

“I start my new job today.”

“Well, well! A new face for a new day! That’s wonderful. Who is supposed to come down and get you?” he said, lifting a guest log from a drawer in the desk. He waited with a shiny grin for J. D. to answer.

“Mr. Baker,” he said, tiptoeing in place. “Can I use the restroom now? I really have to go.”

“I’ll call him while you use the restroom,” he said, pointing over J. D.’s shoulder. “It’s right over there, down yonder.”

“Thank you!” J. D. said, running down the hallway in the direction Emmitt pointed, except when he got to the restroom, a sign perched on the door declared it closed for repairs. A similar sign was taped to the ladies’ room as well.

Dang it! J. D. thought. He couldn’t wait another minute. He speed-walked back to where Emmitt guarded the entrance.

“Mr. Baker isn’t answering his phone,” the guard said. But J. D. didn’t respond. He quickly turned and left the building. “Where are you going?!”

Outside, the warm afternoon sun hung high over the great Capitol lawn, an expansive garden of grass, oak and pecan trees, statuary and monuments, and shrubbery that separated the Texas Department of Unemployment and Benefits building and the Capitol Building of Texas. J. D. hoped to find a building to run into so he could relieve himself but, being from a small town in the country like Brady, Texas, he also wasn’t opposed to peeing in the out of doors if the need arose—emergency situation, accident, or otherwise. He preferred avoiding humiliation almost above all else, though, particularly on his first day at work. Why is this happening to me? he thought, as he scrambled to find a business or building.

Seeing a nondescript building just beyond the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he ran in that direction, pressing his palm against his belly. The St. Augustine grass was thick and lush, and treading across it was akin to running in wet sand. The pressure in his bladder increased to emergency level. But as he rounded the monument, something caught his eye that stopped him in his tracks, something very strange to see laying in the grass jutting out from behind a granite bench: a foot. The pressure in his gut dissipated as he stared at the well-worn, leather, men’s dress shoe.

What the heck?! he thought, looking around to see if anyone else had seen what he’d seen, but no one was around except an uninterested squirrel a few feet away in the grass, juggling a pecan in its paws.

He slowly stepped toward the foot, thankful that it was still attached to a leg, which belonged to a man, laying on his back in the grass, a stranger sight J. D. had not seen in years—maybe even stranger than seeing one of his pet dogs trying to mate with a goat a while back at his parents’ home. He knelt next to the middle-aged, white man to see if he was alive, and it seemed to J. D. that he might be sleeping, except for the weird angle his head rested, twisted and bent at the end of his neck as if he had been sucker-punched by Mike Tyson and left for dead. His chest slowly raised and descended with his breathing but he didn’t look good. J. D. looked around again for someone to call to, someone to help him, but only the squirrel was close by and it was more interested in cracking his pecan nut than helping this poor guy in the grass. J. D. wished at that moment that he was somewhere else—far away—ripping open the packaging of his own pecan snacks.

Also, J. D. knew deep down that he had to do something, anything to help. So, being the good young man he was, he ran back to the building of the Texas Department of Unemployment and Benefits to tell the security guard about who he had found outside in the grass and hoped—by God, he hoped—that the restroom was finally available for him to relieve himself before he started his new job.

About the author

Scott Semegran is an award-winning writer of humorous fiction with a dose of heart. His latest book is To Squeeze a Prairie Dog: An American Novel, which was the 2019 Readers' Favorite International Book Award Winner: Silver Medal for Fiction - Humor/Comedy. view profile

Published on February 01, 2019

Published by

80000 words

Genre: Literary fiction

Reviewed by

Enjoyed this review?

Get early access to fresh indie books and help decide on the bestselling stories of tomorrow. Create your free account today.

or

Or sign up with an email address

Create your account

Or sign up with your social account