On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane

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Tuesday New Release Day: Starring Whitehead, Marais, Szalay, Klosterman, and More

Here’s a quick look at some notable books—new titles from the likes of Colson Whitehead, Bianca Marais, David Szalay, Chuck Klosterman and more—that are publishing this week.

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The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Nickel Boys: “‘As it had ever been with Nickel, no one believed them until someone else said it,’ Whitehead (The Underground Railroad) writes in the present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the grounds of the juvenile reform school the Nickel Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel. Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel’s upstanding reputation in the community, the staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys—especially the black boys—suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner’s struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood’s adult life, showing how the physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the real-life Dozier School for Boys, Whitehead’s brilliant examination of America’s history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight.”

If You Want to Make God Laugh by Bianca Marais

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about If You Want to Make God Laugh: “Marais’s lovely sophomore novel (after Hum If You Don’t Know the Words) follows three women who connect in surprising ways in a newly postapartheid South Africa. Seventeen-year-old Zodwa, once a promising high school student, returns home pregnant and in disgrace to a squatter town outside Magaliesburg. After nearly 40 years of estrangement, sisters Ruth and Delilah reluctantly return to their family farm near Magaliesburg, each looking to find closure from past mistakes. Each woman has her personal struggles: Zodwa hides the details surrounding her pregnancy and cares for her tuberculosis-stricken mother; former stripper Ruth drinks herself through her third divorce; and Delilah refuses to disclose the mysterious circumstances surrounding her sudden return from a humanitarian mission in central Africa. All their lives become intertwined when Ruth and Delilah find an abandoned newborn on their doorstep. Set against the backdrop of the Mandela presidency, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, and the burgeoning AIDS epidemic, the story offers a look into the staggering emotional cost of secrecy, broken family bonds, racism, and sexual violence. Marais once again showcases her talent for pulling beauty from the pain of South African history with a strong story and wonderfully imperfect characters.”

Family of Origin by CJ Hauser

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Family of Origin: “Hauser (The From-Aways) impresses with her wistful contemporary tale of family bonds and misplaced pessimism. Estranged half-siblings 35-year-old Elsa—a discouraged second-grade teacher in Minnesota—and 29-year-old Nolan—a social media manager for the San Francisco Giants—travel to Leap’s Island, a private island off the Gulf Coast, to investigate the drowning death of their father, Ian Grey. Ian, once a respected biologist, had come to Leap’s Island to join the Reversalists, a small group of researchers who believe evolution is regressing to make each generation worse. The eccentric inhabitants jealously guard their research on the island’s unique duck species, hoping to be the first to prove the theory. Elsa is convinced Ian committed suicide, but Nolan hopes conversations with the researchers will prove her wrong. The pair fall into old patterns of sibling rivalry, and Elsa wrestles with her drastic reaction to learning what caused the family’s rupture 15 years before. Hauser intercuts the siblings’ investigation with flashbacks to their fractured earlier family life and the melancholic backstories explaining each of the Reversalists’ reason for coming to the island. This shimmering take on grief and family will enthrall fans of character-driven stories with its bevy of dashed dreams and cluttered emotions.”

On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane by Emily Guendelsberger

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about On the Clock: “In this spiritual sequel to Barbara Ehrenreich’s 2011 Nickel and Dimed, journalist Guendelsberger takes jobs at an Amazon fulfillment warehouse, an AT&T call center, and a McDonald’s franchise to investigate the sheer implausibility of living on minimum wage and the Kafkaesque features of service industry work. These include the Tylenol- and Advil-dispensing vending machines at the Amazon warehouse, a symbol of the excruciating pain that is an expected part of the job; bosses changing time sheets to deduct minutes employees spent in the bathroom; and screaming customers flinging condiment packets. Guendelsberger’s coworkers are charismatic and charming, and completely unaware that they deserve a lot better from their employers: one of her fellow employees suffers a panic attack that requires emergency services and another attempts dental surgery on herself. Interspersed throughout are references to early 20th-century moguls like Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford (who pioneered the use of assembly lines to control workers’ pace, a predecessor to Amazon’s pace-tracking practices), giving historical background on how the plight of today’s overburdened working class came to be. Guendelsberger’s narration is vivid, humorous, and honest; she admits to the feelings of despair, panic, and shame that these jobs frequently inspire, allowing for a more complex and complete picture of the experience. This is a riveting window into minimum-wage work and the subsistence living it engenders.”

Turbulence by David Szalay 

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Turbulence: “In Szalay’s latest, after the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted All That Man Is, two air travelers’ lives briefly intersect in the opening chapter on a flight from London to Madrid. A diabetic English woman returning to her home in Madrid from London, where she was visiting her son, who was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, faints in her seat during a bout of turbulence, and the Ghanaian businessman next to her finds help. This encounter stays with Cheikh, the businessman, as he arrives home in Dakar to news of a tragic car accident in his family. The book continues with a collection of 12 such fleeting encounters, each, relay-like, linked to the previous by a tangential point of intersection, and each driven and inspired by the liminality of air travel. A witness to the accident in Dakar lands in São Paulo, where he sleeps with a journalist who must catch a flight to Toronto the next morning to interview a writer. The writer flies to Seattle for her grandchild’s birth, where by chance she meets a woman from Hong Kong who is caught at a marital crossroads. Szalay is a pithy writer, capable of startling insights into the nature of loneliness and the human desire for companionship, though there is something thin and underdeveloped to the conceit of this novel. This is a somewhat disappointing effort from a talented writer.”

Raised in Captivity by Chuck Klosterman

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about Raised in Captivity: “Klosterman (Chuck Klosterman X), in this irreverent collection of what he calls ‘fictional non-fiction’ stories, creates a multitude of clever scenarios, blasting off with the title story about a wild animal found in the bathroom of the first-class section of an airplane, and careering to the final tale about a hapless man spurred on by a nosy neighbor to continue working on a mysterious contraption in his backyard shed. In these 34 stories, most featuring a hilarious denouement, the author takes on racism, diets, cults, white privilege, and life with Trump as president. Standouts include ‘Execute Again,’ which features a philosophical football coach who teaches his team one play—characterized by the narrator as ‘learning how to foxtrot and moonwalk at the same time,’ the results of which are eye-opening; ‘Of Course It Is,’ which explores the banality of the afterlife; and ‘Pain is a Concept by Which We Measure Our God,’ in which husbands can have a procedure to take on the pain of their wives’ giving birth. No matter the topic, Klosterman’s gimlet eye and trenchant prose bedazzle.”

The Expectations by Alexander Tilney

Here’s what Publishers Weekly had to say about The Expectations: “Tilney’s rewarding debut concerns a freshman at a New Hampshire boarding school in the ’90s who finds that high school isn’t turning out the way he imagined it would. Fourteen-year-old Ben Weeks arrives at St. James thinking that everything will finally start to go right for him. The school has always been part of his family’s life: Ben’s father, Harry, helped renovate the squash courts, and Ben’s uncle Russell is on the board. Ben’s the best boys’ squash player in the country, but he quickly becomes disillusioned with it. His dreams of having a best-friend roommate are dashed when he’s paired with the sweet and awkward Ahmed Al-Khaled, a target of bullies. Ben also discovers that—due to a series of bad investments—Harry can’t afford to pay his tuition. Since pride and competition with Russell prevent Harry from agreeing to financial aid, Ben agrees to let Ahmed’s rich father pick up the tab. Ahmed starts hanging with a stoner crowd that accepts him, though Ben fears that Ahmed will be caught and kicked out. The author effectively touches on matters of class, societal pressures, and what it really means to be cool. Tilney’s memorable boarding school novel hits the mark.”

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