Premise: Pro-Well Pharmaceuticals is Pittsburgh’s premiere pharmaceutical company, led by the former meth dealer Marshall Owens, developing drugs that treat diseases and ailments such as erectile dysfunction. When a terrible accident stops production, however, their dirty little secret is revealed: the factory workforce is actually full of zombies who only need payment in human flesh.
The office employees quickly go into survival mode, banding together or falling victim to undead hunger. They gather makeshift weapons of paper cutters and staplers in order to fight off zombie hordes as they try to escape the building before it’s time to clock out. Marshall Owens has barricaded himself in his fourth floor office, but his surviving employees might have plans of making him pay for his crimes against nature.
The zombie horde amassing outside the building makes their escape plans even more of a challenge, especially with no contact with the outside world. The outbreak has spread to other parts of the city, but the surrounded building isn’t enough to make these employees work overtime.
Themes: Survival is the key in any zombie outbreak, and that is no different in Working Stiffs. Improvisation is essential, especially when trying to find food, water, and weapons. Knowing your enemy is important as you make a plan for survival. The employees search for office supplies that can double as weapons and do their best to plan for escape from the Pro-Well building. We are given insight into the creativity needed for survival situations.
Romance sort of plays a role in the story, though a small part, even if it is unrequited or hidden between unlikely characters. Two employees make their secret romance known, while the goth girl on her first day of work longs for the gay pessimist who becomes the appointed leader of the survivors.
Pros: The dialogue is pretty funny if you aren’t offended by obscenity. The unique characters are probably the best part of Working Stiffs, being thoughtfully characterized without becoming too much of a caricaturization. I liked the fast pace of the action and the funny conversations, especially of the boorish O’Brien. And the loveable General will surprise everyone with his leadership. I also liked that no one is safe when it comes to becoming a zombie meal.
Cons: One of the problems I had with Working Stiffs was that I wasn’t convinced the improvised weapons would have been quite as effective as they were. I don’t think reams of paper and telephones with cords attached would smash a skull as well as they did in the story. A minor gripe considering the humorous nature of the book, I feel like it ended with a few loose ends unresolved while other things tied up too quickly. Perhaps it needed a bigger climactic event to have more payoff. I thought some of the content was offensive for the sake of being offensive, such as with the self-depreciating homosexual or the comments about obese people.
Recommendations: If there is such a thing as a lighthearted zombie gore fest, this falls into that category. Working Stiffs is humorous, full of violence, gore, profanity, and indiscriminately offensive toward all social groups, from geek to goth, including religion, race, age, sexual preference, weight, et al. Some people will be offended by these things while others will greatly enjoy the book because of them. I have a feeling after reading this review you will know which camp you fall into. Think of Working Stiffs as a cross between Office Space and Shaun of the Dead.