The Latte Segment, by Zoe Landon – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer
The Latte Segment, by Zoe Landon
Portland, OR, Leporidae Media, February 2016, trade paperback $14.99 (282 pages), Kindle $4.99.
This is the purest funny-animal novel that I have ever read. Other than that the characters are all described as animals, there is nothing to differentiate this from any all-human novel.
Sarah Madsen is a young woman working as a marketing analyst in Portland, Oregon. Her boyfriend, Sean, is an unemployed computer programmer from Silicon Valley in California. Sarah relaxes alone almost every Sunday at the Deadline Cafe over an expensive latte laced with mint; her only vice.
“Sarah fidgeted and the corner creaked. She was worrying about money.
Her finances were safe, by most reasonable standards, yet there was a nagging sense that she should be doing better. Perhaps she could save a little more. She could go to fewer movies with Sean and their whole circle of friends. She couldn’t get rid of her television like Sean did; she relied on it too much for work. But she could stop coming to the Deadline Cafe every Sunday. It did feel like the lattes got more expensive the last year or so.
Everything in Portland felt like it was getting more expensive lately. Most of it was inevitable. She moved here when things weren’t very good anywhere, and now things were especially good here. New businesses were popping up in her neighborhood left and right. Businesses that, for one reason or another, she rarely went to.” (pgs. 5-6)
Sarah’s life and circle of acquaintances are built up very slowly. There are Carl, her apartment neighbor, and Deborah, her cheerful elderly landlady who is always running about fixing things in the old building.
“They had a good rapport from the day Sarah first saw the apartment. Deborah was always willing to try and fix anything that came up from the residents, even the sort of work that a woman of her age would rarely attempt. Sarah could hardly think of a time she called for a handyman and it wasn’t Deborah herself that came to fix things.” (p. 20)
There are Michelle, her perky, friendly middle-aged office mate, and Alex, her artist friend who is apparently transgender – he keeps switching from one gender to the other.
“Alex was known to move around with what pronouns he preferred. Sarah was always willing to oblige, but it was the sort of information that needed to be passed around.
He was one of the first people Sarah got to know in Portland. He was offering art lessons at the time, and Sarah took him up on the offer. He fit Sarah’s idea of the eccentric, androgynous artist to a T: a small, curiously fashionable otter, soft-spoken with an excitable and scattered brain. Just the kind of character Sarah wanted to get to know.” (p. 13)
Oh, Sarah is a brown-furred rabbit. Sean is a raccoon, Michelle is a wolf, Carl is a hyena, and Deborah is a coyote. Others are gradually introduced.
Sarah has been working regularly for several years and is well-liked, but she is bored and toys with quitting.
“Sarah could only deal with these months [the hectic end-of-quarters]. She didn’t enjoy the chaos. After four years at this job, however, she learned to manage it. She was in charge of managing marketing campaigns for two different clients, and she kept tabs on them gradually. Her approach was measured; chaos would only bring more chaos. An email here, a meeting there, a phone call on occasion, delivered slowly and when necessary. They weren’t the projects with the best performance or most spend or anything that her bosses cared about, but she kept organized and planned ahead. For that, she was well-liked.” (p. 15)
Sarah’s relationship with Sean might be described as more perfunctory than lively.
“‘So,’ Sean said, ‘I need you to explain something to me. How in the hell have you not seen Young Frankenstein?’
Sarah shrugged. ‘I haven’t gotten into Mel Brooks yet. He’s not my style.’
‘But he’s –‘
Sean cut himself off. He loved debating movies with friends. Most of them were even good for a snappy quip in return, the sort of friendly banter that endeared Sarah to the whole crowd. Sean played well off Kate in particular because she was so loud. Sarah, a more mild-mannered rabbit, wasn’t a good foil.” (p. 11)
Kate is a meerkat. Lee, another member of their movie-watching group, is a ferret. Matthew, the manager of an art-house theater that they attend, is a sharply-dressed ocelot.
One day Sarah gets a form letter from Deborah to all her apartment residents announcing her retirement.
“Don’t you fret, though! I’m handing over the keys to the folks at Waterknell Management. Yes, it’s a big group of folks, but they have a bunch of little families in town. I’ve heard good things about them, so I’m sure they’ll take care of you folks just fine. They’ll be moving in a few weeks from now, October 1st! My, is it almost the end of the year already?
Anyway, their man Andrew will be taking over my office, so I hope you all take a chance to get to know him. He’s a fine young hare, but he’s sure got some little shoes to fill here!” (pgs. 20-21)
Sarah is mildly surprised, but not much since Deborah is so obviously past retirement age. She idly wonders who her new landlords will be.
“‘She did say it was some local management company. Never heard of ‘em, but still.’” (p. 23)
Sarah uses her marketing database to look up Waterknell Management. She can’t find any other locations listed in Portland. But there are other Waterknell Managements all across America.
“Now that it affected her, she found herself sitting at her desk, trying to research the new company. There were a dozen Waterknells, dotted across the country, making claims to anything from suburban townhouses to commercial towers. It was a strange name to be so generic. None looked like they held very strictly to any geographic area, so Sarah wasn’t sure which would be her new landlord come October.
Purely from a marketing standpoint, something was fishy about the Waterknells. Browsing across a few sites between work tasks, she started noticing similarities. The website layouts started to match, almost precisely.” (p. 25)
A more obvious giveaway is that all the Waterknells list the same manager, or president, or CEO: Andrew Casterwall, a brown-grey hare. San Mateo. Houston. He’s everywhere. What does this mean? He can’t be a friendly landlord/building repairman for all of them, can he?
As Sarah goes to work every weekday, watches movies with Sean and her friends, helps Alex put on art exhibits, and drinks lattes on Sundays, she is affected by her apartment’s change of management. To nobody’s surprise but hers, the new management is cancelling all leases and requiring new ones at $500 a month more. Her building is going to be gentrified; have a total makeover and cater to more upper-class tenants; more transients rather than those who consider their apartment their permanent home. None of the current residents can afford the new rents.
Should Sarah protest? She is hardly the first apartment renter to be priced out by a new management. Some of her friends and acquaintances are supportive to her protesting; others just shrug and say, “So move. Why bother to fight it?”
The Latte Segment (cover by Simon Avery) is a well-written, leisurely slice-of-life novel about a young yuppie woman facing a Big Corporation. Compared to the drama of most fiction, nothing happens at great length. There seems to be no reason for the characters to be anthropomorphized animals except that the author wants to call them that. The animals are all human size; live in well-known American cities; go to movies by Hitchcock and Spielberg and Kubrick; eat the same food; and so on. There are no illustrations – even Avery’s well-designed cover doesn’t show anything – so aside from calling Sarah a rabbit every so often, it’s easy to forget what animal each character is supposed to be, and to just imagine the cast as humans. I can’t say that this is a bad novel – it isn’t – but I can say that it isn’t really an anthropomorphic-animal novel except in the most superficial meaning of the term.
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