From Tin House Winter 2017, Issue 74
Communications by Sofi Stambo satirizes office politics and the corporate environment found in many US businesses. A flash fiction piece published by Tin House, the story follows Cindy’s horrible first few days at the office. Told from the perspective of an unnamed office veteran, the piece puts the nasty underbelly of the 9 to 5 doldrums on display.
A Machiavellian Office Culture
The short story establishes the office as a place of political maneuvering, backstabbing, and treachery. Polite exchanges are a must, but so too are well-timed knives in the back. The narrator idolizes the owner’s assistant for always having compliments at the ready for the least worthy people, even if it’s only for their faxing ability. Stambo creates
Cindy’s Fails at Her First Impression
The narrator feels bad for Cindy because she doesn’t understand the culture of the office and comes off as socially inept and politically unsavvy. She is too obvious about her loneliness. She talks about being single too often and her honesty makes her peers uncomfortable. The established members of the office don’t appreciate how she flirts with the two most attractive men in the office. She’s also bad at it—relying on overt moves far too often. She fails to win over the members of the office early and seems unlikely to get past the rough first impression.
Office Blow Up Ends Cindy’s Stay
A majority of the story relates Cindy’s blow up after only four days of working there. One of the attractive men in the office, Peter, approaches Cindy to request she send him a fax. Cindy misreads the situation and flirts with him. She tells him she won’t be able to send him the fax until Friday but in an “I am unattainable way,” as the narrator puts it. Peter, meanwhile, takes it as a breach of his authority and yells at her, telling her he could get her fired.
Cindy calls out Peter for being a bully and asshole. But as her anger increases, she starts to lose the thread of her tirade and ends up insulting the entire office. She used to be a huge deal and didn’t deserve to be treated the way they treat her. She rightly calls out the office culture, but in order to belittle them and to make herself seem bigger. The fight shows the negative culture of the office and neither Cindy or Peter come off well.
Stambo Writes a Clean, Tight Short Story
At the end of the story, the narrator asks Cindy to fax her something just as Peter had done—but she does it nicely and in the classic Machiavellian way that the culture expects from her. She makes sure to compliment Cindy’s faxing skills, a callback to the office assistant who’d been so successful at exchanging pleasantries.
Stambo writes with a satirical edge that works well for such a short, efficient piece. “Communications” builds the office culture, jumps straight into the controversy and conflict of Cindy’s explosion, and ends with nice rhyming action that creates a funny and satisfying conclusion.