In the near-future thriller The Warehouse, Rob Hart explores the dangerous the convergence of business and politics. The novel kicks off with the perspective of Gibson Wells, CEO of Cloud, speaking on his life experiences. Cloud is the tech giant company that hires and houses it’s employees all in warehouses around the U.S. These passages allow the reader to see the humanity of this executive, to give a balanced perspective on this live-work company. I remember the days before Apple became the major tech conglomerate it is now. There was something homey and personable about taking my blue iMac to a hole in the wale repair shop just to add memory so I could play a new game. Even in technology, there was a warmth and humanity.
Paxton and Zinnia are the protagonists of the novel, point of view shifting between them and Gibson. Paxton is a man looking to restart his life after his business collapsed, and Zinnia is a woman on a mission to infiltrate the tech company. Employees are evaluated, then assigned to a department with a specific colored polo. Job performance is measured by stars and there’s cut days to release employees that don’t perform well. Hart effortlessly weaves a tale of intrigue and deception.
Not only is Rob Hart, the author of five novels and short story collection, but he’s also worked as a political reporter, communications director for a politician and commission for the city of New York. His expertise of policy making and human psychology make for a wonderful foundation for this narrative. In the acknowledgments, Hart dedicates this novel to Maria Fernandes who accidentally suffocated on gas fumes while sleeping in her car while working part time at three separate Dunkin Donuts.
Though I enjoyed and understood the reason for multiple points of view, I wanted more of Zinnia’s narrative on the page. I found myself wondering where she was from and how she’d been recruited into the world of corporate espionage. Paxton felt like a weight to balance her out, but I didn’t feel as engaged with his story as I was with Zinnia’s. When the protagonists came in contact with other characters, those also seemed more like additional props for a really cool storyline. I found the plot driving itself, instead of the characters moving through their real world.
Though some characters weren’t as bold on the page as Zinnia was, Hart really drove home the themes of corporate greed, economic power struggle, racism, sexism, and the importance of fighting the status quo. In this world, employees are encouraged and/or rewarded for not making waves. There’s a security team, but the head of it, Dobbs, prefers fewer write ups, which leads to many crimes being overlooked. There’s a scene where a white store owner accuses a black man of stealing and when the officers (Paxton and his patrolling partner Dakota) find he’s lying, advise the black man to pay for something just to keep things off the radar. Zinnia is sexually harassed by a manager and when she discusses with a friend is told to just bear it. Towards the end of the book, Zinnia is attacked by this man, and Dobbs askes Paxton to convince her not to file a report. Hart is holding a mirror up for the reader to see the horrors that many individuals deal with when at a disadvantage. Concerning the plot, it makes sense for these situations to be swept under the rug; however, not having the characters explicitly address these issues seems like a missed opportunity. Any, or all, of these situations could have been lessons in the power of allyship.
Not only does Cloud have a monopoly on the market, but they require their employees to live in their facilities. Zinnia and Paxton describe it as living in an airport, it was exactly how I interpreted the restaurants, stores, and entertainment spaces. On the surface, it seems this arrangement is for the benefit of the employee (studies have shown that shorter commutes tend to lead to happier employees); however, as the plot progresses it becomes more about the company having access to their employees. It’s reminiscent of how technology keeps us so connected, people are almost unable to unplug from work to reconnect with loved ones.
Technology is merely a tool and it’s rise has made human life simpler in some ways, but complicated in others. It’s easy to see why Cloud initially was and continued to be successful: it fulfilled needs of the consumer. One of the phrases that Gibson Wells uses is, “the market dictates”, which is true in capitalism but also serves as an excuse to deny personal responsibility. There’s mention of Black Friday Massacres where people were gunned down during the start of the holiday season in retail stores. This tragedy makes Cloud’s drone delivery more than a convenience but a necessity. When I was in college, textbooks from the giant book chain were too expensive even with my financial aid so I began using Amazon Prime Student. Not only were my book expenses less, but they arrived in two days. Despite this benefit, I never once thought about those who made this my convenience and necessity possible. The smartphones of today help us navigate our trips, foresee the weather, and even book trips all in one setting. Social media allows us to connect with friends from the past and new acquaintances abroad. The internet has made the world smaller, allowing an opportunity to better understand one another. Though technology itself isn’t evil, there are downfalls and negative effects. Technology addiction is being studied by researchers to try and understand how exactly instant gratification is affecting humanity.
Hart pulls back the curtain on this sort of thing, though, displays this dynamic in the scenes were Zinnia is working as a picker, someone who runs throughout the warehouse to gather ordered items then place them on a conveyor belt to be packaged and mailed. Pickers have the most labor intensive aspect of the warehouse. She’s expected to deliver items to the conveyor belt in an allotted time; however, not allowed to run. She’s expected to climb heights to reach items while using a safety harness, but she rarely uses it because it takes too long to secure which affects her time which is recorded on her daily job performance.
Post apocalyptic narratives are in high demand as society recognizes, on some level, that current actions have future consequences. But what makes this terrying is just how close this reality could actually be. There’s a major disconnect between the CEO and employee experience. The technology is familiar, grounding the reader while introducing them to a world they hadn’t even considered. I feel having this narrative so close to the present allows the reader to connect and evaluate our relationship with consumerism.