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A new collection of fiction explores the art of the cover letter and the angst and misfortunes of job searching

Cover letters are a consistently depressing form of writing. After I finished a master's degree, I spent almost a year finding new ways to say, "Choose me! I'm good! And desperate... horribly desperate!" Eventually I found work in parking lots, mail rooms and a cowboy-hat factory before giving up and retreating to law school.

And that style of writing was all I really expected from Overqualified, a collection of cover letters by Toronto writer Joey Comeau. The angst and misfortunes of job searching can be amusing and predictable. But Comeau doesn't get bogged down in the usual cover-letter routine beyond a few introductory lines to each letter. Instead, he spills out bits of autobiography, dreamscapes, perversions and generally unleashes his id in a manner guaranteed to never land him a job of any sort.

Comeau takes the structure of a cover letter and completely removes himself from the job-searching context. We don't learn much about what Comeau does for a living or if he's looking for a job at all. We learn in gritty detail that his brother Adrian recently died in a car accident, his Acadian grandmother refuses to speak to him in French and he's got a girlfriend named Susan who he feels reluctant and relieved to love. He's a self-confessed pervert who wouldn't trust himself with a webcam. His dreams mix sex and violence. On top of that, John Wayne apparently calls him crying in the middle of the night.

A novelty act? Well, sure. The idea of making a book out of cover letters isn't a grand innovation. But Comeau's skill is to weave his life story, including its neurotic undercurrents, around a literary structure that encourages us all to sound like duller people, not to mention dull writers. These rambling cover letters are utterly bizarre, but they also present their author's genuine complexity. Overqualified never unravels into an angst-soaked diary, even when it comes close. There is a compelling tension behind each letter which makes the book consistent and weirdly enjoyable.--Shane Patrick Murphy

This review was first published in The Dominion.

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