Navigating the gig economy, whether on one’s own or through assorted temp agencies, can be a somewhat dicey proposition. While you can at least have somewhat of a say in the type of work you’d prefer, it doesn’t always pan out as one might hope. And when money gets tight and options become more and more limited, you’re often left with little choice but to suck it up and take on something you might not ordinarily endeavor under normal circumstances. Given the nature of the modern job market—particularly in the wake of a global pandemic that has left untold swaths of the population unemployed—the freedom to pick and choose different types of work can seem more and more appealing, despite the inherent uncertainty involved. Such is the case for the female protagonist in Hilary Leichter’s hallucinatory Temporary.

Moving from one increasingly absurd vocational premise to the next—pirate ship, empty house, human barnacle, assistant to an assassin, etc.—Leichter’s unnamed narrator seeks to do each job to the best of her abilities, filling in for those who’ve taken a leave of absence, lost their position or are otherwise in need of additional, temporary help. With this type of work seen as a sort of caste, she assumes the role of Temporary following her grandmother and mother before her, each of whom found themselves in equally absurd employment situations; these include working for a witch, a job that mostly involves paperwork, and one that is viewed as the lowest of the low for temporaries.

The narrator finds herself moving from one position to the next, often unpredictably, as when the woman whom she replaced on the pirate ship suddenly reappears with gifts for her crew mates, thus necessitating the narrator’s hasty dismissal via the plank (and this just after she began to feel herself slipping into the ship’s rhythms!). Yet each position lost leads to another unique opportunity, each of which may one day lead to something resembling a career. And while that prospect remains elusive, she comes to terms with the temporal nature of her very existence, both in the literal and existential sense.

With each position, she can just as easily be replaced as she does the replacing of individuals who came before her, many of whom bore similar or comparably proficient traits. The only thing that she has that can set her apart is her steadfast desire to do each job to the very best of her ability, even if, as with her work with the assassin, she comes to the hard realization that she, “just might not be cut out for the life that comes with killing.” And while each situation seems to escalate in terms of implausibility and absurdity, Leichter’s deft prose helps keep even the most out-there scenarios firmly rooted in a sense of realism and relatability for anyone who has found themselves faced with the prospect of any number of random assortments of jobs cobbled together in order to make a living.

At the heart of Temporary is the idea that nearly everything in our lives is just that. The narrator has a series of boyfriends whom she keeps around to address varying wants, needs and desires, all of whom ultimately get along and spend time together in her often-lengthy absences. And while she claims a favorite, each serves his specific purpose for her in any given moment, just as each prospective job serves as the means to an end. In this, the narrator is constantly in motion, constantly searching for something just beyond the scope of her grasp either personally or professionally.

Not only are her lovers and colleagues temporary, but she herself is perhaps the most temporary of them all, her very existence predicated on the amount of time she manages to spend on and with each. In one of the more devastating, and equally apt, conclusions reached following the termination of a position, the narrator muses, “The house was a house for a family, and I was filling in for a ghost.” Temporary offers a slyly satirical commentary on both modern society, the modern workforce—Leichter’s thinly-veiled takedown of corporate politics via a band of pirates is particularly insightful and resonant for anyone who’s had the misfortunate of stepping foot into the corporate world—and our own impermanence.

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