I don’t know exactly what I expected from Terms & Conditions, but I think it delivered. This story had an innovative format that I found completely addictive. I actually ended up liking the main character, and while bits of the story were rather depressing, the ending was solid and at least somewhat optimistic, which I appreciate.
I don’t even really know exactly how to describe this book. The main character, Frank (or possibly Franklyn), has been in a terrible car accident and is suffering from amnesia. Frank has spent his life working in the family law firm, and his job is to write all the terms and conditions – the small print at the bottom of the contracts – the stuff that no one reads.
The book is divided into very short chapters that mostly start with “Terms and Conditions of __________”. Then there are a few pages (or just one) of Frank talking about the subject (e.g., life, me, senses, coffee, and my wife are the first five sections). However, the entirety of each chapter is riddled with footnotes – and if you dared to skip them, you would miss the whole story. Which, in a way, is the point.
I can see how the format would be extremely aggravating to some people. However, I felt that Glancy pulled it off. The footnotes are always situated in a position in the sentence or paragraph that makes it easy to glance down and read the addition without breaking the rhythm of what is happening. I personally ended up loving the format. I loved the short, snappy sections. I liked the way that they had a heading, then a summary sentence, and then Frank’s thoughts on the topic.
Terms & Conditions of Coffee: Its taste never lives up to the promise of its aroma.
Terms & Conditions of the Spleen: You can live without it but it makes life just a little bit harder.
Terms & Conditions of Meetings: They’re never about work.
Terms & Conditions of Warnings: They usually come without warning.
Terms & Conditions of a Prenuptial Agreement: It’s just a postnuptial disagreement waiting to happen.
Really, my only problem with this format came down to font size. Because so much of the story is fine print, it’s literally in fine print – and I could legit only read this book in strong light because my eyes aren’t that fantastic and some of the font was quite tiny.
In some ways, this book reminded me a lot of Martin Harbottle’s Appreciation of Time. Both books have an unusual format and short, snappy chapters. And both of them are about individuals slowly realizing that the constant grind of doing something that they kind of hate is kind of killing them inside. At one point in Terms & Conditions Frank reflects –
I don’t want to change society – I’m not that ambitious – but I would prefer it if my every working hour was not devoted to making this world a slightly worse place to live.
I feel you, Frank. That’s kind of what inspired me to throw in the towel at my law office job last winter and instead become a seasonal farm worker of sorts. (So not changing society, but somehow I hope that selling people flowers and apples is making the world a slightly happier place than doing debt collection on their hospital bills.)
At any rate, the problem with these types of books is that they frequently end in a sort of depressing manner. But (and hopefully this isn’t too much of a spoiler here), I felt like Glancy handled this story very deftly. Parts of it definitely were sad and frustrating, but it was ultimately a story that ended on a hopeful note.
Sometimes I feel like a lot of people act as though getting up and going to work every day, having a house, being married, raising a family and some vegetables – like all of that stuff is what makes your life terrible and sucks out your soul. But I think that the problem isn’t with a steady routine and regular work, but rather that we all too often allow ourselves to be shuttled into careers that we didn’t really choose – families pressure us into pursuing specific jobs that don’t really appeal to us, finances mean that we can’t get an education learning the thing we’re interested in, or we didn’t even realize there was another option until we’re twenty years deep into the thing we kinda hate. It isn’t always practical to break away from a soul-sucking job, but maybe more of us could if we were willing to really look at our options and change the way we live.
At any rate, I really enjoyed Terms & Conditions, and found myself wishing Frank all the best. 4/5 for an engaging story with an unusual layout. Recommended.
PS This book was originally brought to my attention way back in 2014 by Carol over at Reading, Writing & Riesling, so be sure to check out her review!