Translated from the French by Bruce Benderson
Another great pick from Melville House’s Contemporary Art of the Novella Series.* Duteurtre is a French music critic and writer. Here, he focuses his satiric wit on the ever-more-powerful and interconnected business world.
Set in present times, the author describes a world in which corporations have infiltrated every move that their customers make – even when those customers have no idea they are even buying the company’s product.
A global telecom company, with the mysterious “Leslie Delmare” as Director of Customer Service, is happy to help the narrator replace his beloved smartphone, which was tragically left in the back of a cab. Of course, there’s a price. Not only must he pay for his new phone, and new service, he most also continue to pay for the lost phone service until the contract runs out. This is only the first of many incidents that lead him to a simple conclusion. Companies are attracting customers at cut-rate prices, locking them into unbreakable contracts, and then charging them for the most minor infraction of the rules. This creates a new source of income:
[W]aiting time had been transformed into an economic agent and source of profits.
Why pay more phone operators when you can simply charge your customers $1.99 a minute to wait on hold?
Things take a decidedly more sinister route when our narrator finally meets the supposedly nonexistent Leslie Delmare. Leslie Delmare can be whomever you wish. She can take care of your problem, smooth things over. That’s her way – until she decides not to.
The ending of Customer Service was eerily reminiscent of 1984 – only this time, Big Brother isn’t the government. Your contract with this overlord is not a theoretical social one, but rather one that is filed away in a monstrous system, the other party waiting for you to violate your terms so it can gleefully profit of your misery.
Full disclosure: Melville House sent this to me for participating in the Art of the Novella reading challenge.