Fiction about unemployment: looking for recommendations
February 8, 2017 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for recommendations of short stories, novellas or novels in which losing a job or being unemployed is central to the premise. I would prefer literary or art fiction. I’d give some examples but can’t think of any!
posted by OrderOctopoda to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In Theodore Drieser's Sister Carrie, one of the main characters loses his job and is unable to find another. This doesn't occur until later in the novel, but it's gut wrenching when it happens.

George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London.

Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. Having lost his strength and health working in the Chicago stockyards, immigrant Jurgis Rudkus becomes unemployable.
posted by FencingGal at 12:19 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]

Second George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London - it is available in Project Gutenberg
posted by garbanzilla at 12:19 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle fits your bill. The main character is unemployed, which Murakami uses to explore the sort of passivity that usually accompanies not having a job. His brother is an excellent foil to him, having a prestigious job and seemingly no personal life.
posted by ayerarcturus at 12:25 PM on February 8 [3 favorites]

Ruth Rendell's One Across, Two Down has its protagonist's unemployment and precarious employment as a central theme, but it's definitely suspense/crime rather than literary.
posted by carbide at 12:28 PM on February 8

I think Knut Hamsun's Hunger fits the bill.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:30 PM on February 8 [4 favorites]

Oh god, the deeply dark and funny And Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:30 PM on February 8 [7 favorites]

Maybe Kafka's Amerika. The kid is seeking, finding, and losing jobs throughout the story.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 12:33 PM on February 8

If a web comic works for you, I will suggest She eventually gets her life straightened out, but it starts off with her unemployed (either from the start or very shortly after the start) and deals with somewhat realistic consequences, in terms of not being able to afford an apartment of her own after a while, etc.
posted by Michele in California at 12:37 PM on February 8

I just started The Tidal Zone and am only about a quarter of the way through, but the father, who is the first person protagonist, is a stay-at-home dad and the mom is a doctor, and that has an explicit impact on the relationship between the two and between the dad and the daughters.
posted by janey47 at 12:44 PM on February 8

The Company Man by Joe Clifford Faust
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:45 PM on February 8

The classic book about benign unemployment (someone who doesn't want to work, and doesn't have to) is Oblomov.

On the other hand, for a look at someone who will literally kill to get a job, try Donald Westlake's The Ax.
posted by ubiquity at 12:48 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

Walter Greenwood - Love on the Dole.
posted by misteraitch at 12:48 PM on February 8

A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe
posted by mannequito at 12:51 PM on February 8

Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth has this as an important though minor plot element, but if you look at trying to get married as the main character's "search for work" (the book definitely treats it as a necessary economic transaction to secure her future welfare), then the book is all about that.
posted by Mchelly at 1:23 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

A Confederacy of Dunces
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 1:39 PM on February 8 [5 favorites]

The Graduate. The movie was based on a novel by Charles Webb.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:40 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

However, I just read something about The Graduate novel, and apparently it's pretty homophobic, so I don't suggest go looking for it.
posted by SemiSalt at 1:56 PM on February 8

Thom Jones - Mouses
posted by Bron at 3:21 PM on February 8

It's more about underemployment than unemployment, but assuming that's ok, then Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell. Not his greatest book but a decent quick read.
posted by phoenixy at 3:32 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

So this is a film (based on an unpublished novel), but Withnail & I is fantastic.
posted by veery at 3:58 PM on February 8 [2 favorites]

In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Johnny Nolan's alcoholism loses him several jobs.
posted by furtive_jackanapes at 4:12 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the N.H.K. - the main character is an unemployed shut-in. The novel was also adapted into manga and anime TV series.
posted by needled at 4:15 PM on February 8 [1 favorite]

Death of a Salesman?
posted by miniraptor at 4:20 PM on February 8

Natsume Soseki's Sorekara, a.k.a. And Then ... I loved that book when I was in college.
posted by Wobbuffet at 4:29 PM on February 8

The Nix by Nathan Hill
posted by Packy_1962 at 4:38 PM on February 8

posted by BWA at 5:09 PM on February 8

The Shockwave Rider is a dystopian future novel (but written in 1975) where most people are under or unemployed. Vast swaths of the people (like entire states) are on government assistance.
posted by Mitheral at 5:43 PM on February 8

Savage Holiday by Richard Wright.
posted by holborne at 9:32 PM on February 8

Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh.
posted by neilb449 at 11:43 PM on February 8

Saul Bellows: The Dangling Man and Seize the Day
The Dangling Man is really good.
posted by xammerboy at 4:39 PM on February 9

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