Some books are hard to describe, let alone review, and Hilary Leighter’s novel, Temporary, is definitely one of those books. I enjoyed it a great deal; it’s a fast read brimming with humor and ideas, but at the same time it is set in a world that is at such a tangent to ours that it’s difficult to figure out what’s going on, how much you should be taking seriously and where the book is going. Ultimately it’s one of those books you just have to dive into and let it take you wherever it’s going, rather than trying to force it to make conventional sense.
Our first person narrator is unnamed, though she frequently takes on the names of people she’s replacing. She comes from a long line of women who work from one temporary job to another, aspiring to some kind of permanence but never quite achieving it (maybe). So far this sounds reasonably normal, until I start describing the kinds of temporary jobs she takes on in the course of the book. She’s a CEO of a corporation where she’s never worked and where she only has the vaguest idea of what the corporation is doing. She joins a pirate ship, apparently doing bookkeeping and filing as well as the more usual pirate activities like making people walk the plank and killing prisoners. She works for a woman who owns millions of shoes the woman never wears or uses, her job to take care of the shoes. She works for a witch, delivering pamphlets which don’t seem to have any particular purpose or to have been created by any particular organization (though terrible things will happen if the pamphlets are not all distributed and later returned). She works as a barnacle, as a ghost (which actually was one of my favorite jobs she has, especially since she doesn’t realize, at first, that she’s subbing for a ghost), as an assistant to a murderer who takes up with the woman who should have been one of his victims.
The rest of her life is equally bizarre: she has a number of boyfriends, none of whom has a name she uses, all of whom end up living together in her apartment and serially marrying the head of the agency (if it is an agency) which employs our protagonist. Characters from one temporary job reappear later, in connection with other jobs. She sees her role as taking on the whole personality of the one she’s replacing, to the point where she quizzes her coworkers about what this other person would have done in a particular situation. Occasionally she actually meets, later on, the person she’s replacing (or she’s already met that person before she replaces her). Various people she runs into know of each other though there’s no reason they should. The world is absurd in the extreme. If you’re looking for a book where one thing logically follows another, choose something else. You will be endlessly frustrated by this one.
However, if you’re ready to throw yourself into a different world and enjoy the main character’s adventures without trying to force them to make sense, the book is great fun. Our narrator is totally deadpan, so you can enjoy the ridiculous things happening around her, and appreciate the humor she doesn’t highlight or even seem to notice. For all its absurdity and all the bizarre things happening in the course of the book, ultimately it all pulls together into a meditation on what really is permanence, what really is temporary, and why it might be better to be temporary, in the long run.