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The Pursuit of Other Interests

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Overview

Charlie Baker is a neurotic but charming 50-year-old workaholic CEO of a major Chicago ad agency who seems to have it all: an impressive house in an upscale suburb, an equally impressive salary, the requisite pretty wife and accomplished son. All of this comes crashing down when Charlie is unceremoniously fired. In an instant, his life is transformed from corporate titan to just another out of work American.

For Charlie—an admitted workaholic—a world without a job is a ...

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The Pursuit of Other Interests: A Novel

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Overview

Charlie Baker is a neurotic but charming 50-year-old workaholic CEO of a major Chicago ad agency who seems to have it all: an impressive house in an upscale suburb, an equally impressive salary, the requisite pretty wife and accomplished son. All of this comes crashing down when Charlie is unceremoniously fired. In an instant, his life is transformed from corporate titan to just another out of work American.

For Charlie—an admitted workaholic—a world without a job is a strange world indeed. Rather then tell his family, every morning Charlie leaves home to spend his days at an outplacement firm, where he meets a cast of equally desperate corporate misfits. As Charlie reluctantly embarks on a journey of self-discovery, he finds out what happens when his work life is lost and his real life begins.

Humorous, poignant, and honest, The Pursuit of Other Interests offers a glimpse into the lives, hearts, and minds of the 21st-century American family.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The gainfully employed, the underemployed and the woefully unemployed will all likely appreciate this timely novel from Kokoris (Sister North), in which he tackles the subject of joblessness the same way a job hunter might approach his day—with serious consideration and a bolstering sense of humor. After Chicago ad exec Charlie Baker gets the ax for his “frenetic style” (his wife just calls him crazy), 50-year-old Charlie realizes he may have already lost his family and friends. Aided by nebbishy “transition consultant” Ned Meyers and other colorful “refugees” at the outplacement center, Charlie, “who had never been much of a ponderer,” begins to figure out what went wrong in his life. While it's difficult for the average earner to empathize with an ill-tempered executive who banked a $400,000 salary, Kokoris creates in Charlie a citizen funny enough, a husband flawed enough and a father desperate enough that any reader might identify with his search for security and happiness, as well as a job—dream or not—that facilitates them both. (Oct.)
Kirkus Reviews
Kokoris (Sister North, 2003, etc.) tweaks the zeitgeist in this gently humorous novel about an out-of-work executive. Both the recession and office politics play a part in the summary dismissal of 50-year-old Charlie Baker, managing head of Chicago's largest ad agency. Soon narcissistic, tantrum-throwing Charlie is spending his days at an outplacement firm for fired executives. At first he resists the counsel of transition consultant Ned, the kind of Hush Puppy-wearing, middle-management schlump he has always disdained. With his hyper personality and manic wit, Charlie is a dead ringer for Jeremy Piven's Ari on Entourage, but Kokoris paints Ned and Charlie's fellow job seekers in the outplacement office with a complexity that arouses painful empathy for their desperation. Increasingly humbled, Charlie begins to follow Ned's advice and even becomes his friend. Meanwhile Charlie's employment crisis brings to the surface a deeper crisis on the domestic front. For years so absorbed in his work that he barely paid attention to wife Donna and 16-year-old son Kyle, Charlie has become a stranger in his own home. Before he can bring himself to tell Donna he's lost his job, she announces she is taking a trip to Maine, alone. While she's gone, slacker Kyle tells Charlie that Donna knows he's been fired. Kyle also gives him reason to suspect that his neglect may have driven her into an affair. But Kokoris is not the sort of writer who puts his hero in serious harm's way. True-blue Donna just wants him to pay a little husbandly attention. While the spouses tentatively reconnect, Charlie gets to know and appreciate Kyle, a budding basketball star who reads Pynchon and plays the piano. When a lucrativebut high-pressure opportunity crops up, Charlie is faced with a choice neither surprising nor particularly realistic in today's economy. The author has a deft comic touch, but he plays softball with a major league subject.
From the Publisher
The Pursuit of Other Interests has the absurd hilarity of And Then We Came To The End coupled with the poignancy of Death of a Salesman. Compellingly readable. Utterly entertaining. Thought provoking. I was hooked by the first line and willingly pulled into the downward spiral of Charlie Baker’s life. He’s endearing and quirky in an embarrassingly real way. We are all Charlie, single-mindedly chasing after what we think we want, and then, when we get it, realizing we sped past the truly important things in life. Jim Kokoris absolutely nails the character of Charlie, with humor and pathos. I give it two thumbs up and five stars.”—Patricia Wood author of Lottery

Praise for The Rich Part of Life

"Watertight...so packed with zany Americana that you fear it might burst."—Los Angeles Times

"Impressive...a novel of character."—Newsday

"A cohesive and poignant story...Kokoris has an ear for how people talk and think."—Chicago Tribune

Praise for Sister North

"Unexpected, hilarious, and more than worth the trip."- The New York Times Book Review

"Few novelists explore, much less capture, the religious imagination with the talent Jim Kokoris invests in these pages. Sister North is an impressive achievement."- Chicago Tribune

"A compelling story of forgiveness and spiritual awakening . . . imaginative, deeply felt."- The Dallas Morning News

"A tender poignancy permeates this charmingly profound yet deviously humorous portrait of redemption and renewal."- Booklist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312650599
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 10/26/2010
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,462,784
  • Product dimensions: 8.54 (w) x 11.32 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

JIM KOKORIS’s work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine, USA Weekend, Chicago Sun-Times, and Reader's Digest. He is the author of the novels The Rich Part of Life, which has been published in 15 languages and for which he won a Friends of American Writers Award for Best First Novel, and Sister North. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Jim lives with his wife and their three sons in the Chicago area.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

He was doing his breathing techniques when his heart stopped again. The purpose of the exercises was to lower his heart rate, but apparently he had mastered the technique so well, he was almost killing himself. Lying on his back in his bed, nothing beating inside of him, he waited for darkness and then the revealing white light. Instead he felt something kick in, felt life rush through him, an electric, hot current. He sat up gasping for air, his hands at his throat.

"Charlie?" Donna asked. Her eyes were closed and she seemed half asleep.

He coughed a little, and sucked in another deep breath. "I’m fine," he managed to whisper, although she hadn’t asked how he was doing.

He had started the breathing exercises after returning from the agency’s annual executive retreat for emerging thought-leaders held in a resort town in the Black Forest whose name he could never pronounce. The year before, the agency had been purchased by a German media conglomerate that firmly believed in training and career development for its key people. One of the seminars was on "thought cleansing," and it was taught by a former monk who had written a book, The Corporate Buddha. The breathing exercises were a form of meditation and should ideally be performed while hooked up to an oxygen tank. Unfortunately, Donna wouldn’t let him have an oxygen tank in bed, so he limited his routine to taking very deep breaths until he almost died.

He sat on the edge of the bed for a few minutes and waited for his heartbeat to return to what he felt was a normal pace, then went downstairs to the basement to do forty-five minutes on the treadmill. He ran ten-minute miles, an easier pace than usual. He was breaking in new orthotics for his feet and wanted to take it a bit slower. He also wanted to check his voice mail, which he couldn’t do if he was running like a maniac.

While running, he reached for his headset, and carefully dialed his cell to check for messages. Surprisingly, there were only four. Three were inconsequential, but the last one was from Ursula in Berlin saying Helmut was coming to Chicago and wanted some time with him. Helmut was the chairman and founder of the media conglomerate, a complex man, both charming and abrupt, who did not suffer fools well.

Charlie considered calling her back, but decided to run another mile. He preferred to be at his desk with all his weapons handy when dealing with Berlin, not half naked on a treadmill. Besides, he had slept well, a rare occurrence, and wanted to keep going.

During his cool-down walk, he left several messages for his direct reports, reviewing the agenda for that day’s staff huddle, prioritizing action items, and making recommendations for where to order in for lunch. He preferred the more human touch of voice mails over e-mails when communicating to his team. Besides, he couldn’t use his BlackBerry while running on the treadmill. He had tried once and nearly fallen off.

After his run, he did some stomach crunches, then headed for the kitchen and breakfast: Cheerios with skim milk, topped with raisins, blueberries, flaxseed. Ten minutes later, he was upstairs in his home office checking e-mail. Not counting spam, he had only seventeen new messages, an unusually light number. He sent short responses, including one to Ursula about his schedule, then jumped into the shower, running the water as hot as possible.

Afterward, he stood dripping wet in front of the mirror, steam rising behind him, and took stock. Years ago, Charlie had the depressing revelation that it was impossible to look good naked after forty. Despite his best efforts, his body reinforced this conclusion. Though he was relieved to still have most of it, his once-black hair was more than a little sprinkled with salt. He also possessed a slight paunch, sagging shoulders, and only a hint of biceps. He comforted himself with the fact that he still looked fine with clothes on and, at fifty years old, he made a point of wearing as many clothes as possible.

While toweling off, he performed his morning mole check. He had detected a potential problem on his left shoulder (two weeks before he was pretty sure it was on his right shoulder) and had been carefully monitoring it. It was still in the pre-mole state, just a faint shadow, but he knew it was there and it worried him. Recently, a man in the creative department at the agency had been diagnosed with skin cancer on his foot and was forced to have a toe amputated. The specter of an amputation haunted Charlie, so he kept a close eye on this migrating mole. As soon as he felt the shadow was officially transitioning into something substantive, he would not hesitate; he would see a specialist.

When he finished in the bathroom, he walked over to his new humidifier and lowered his face into the rising jet of steam. The wet, moist air felt good and he took several deep, head-clearing breaths. While he had often slept with a humidifier on, he had recently become addicted to a new deluxe model, the Rain Forest Deuce, which offered twice the humidity. After only a few days, it seemed to be making a difference with his chronically aching sinuses, clearing out his cavities and generally making breathing easier. He deeply inhaled one last time, made a mental note to buy a smaller unit for business travel, then returned to the bathroom to dry his now-damp face.

When he reentered the room, he was startled to see Donna sitting up in bed, her arms folded in front of her, her eyes slightly open. Charlie could tell by the tilt of her head and the way she was breathing that she was still asleep. Throughout their marriage, she had been a turbulent sleeper. When they were younger, she frequently walked in her sleep. Once she had reached the alley behind the garage, and another time, wearing lingerie he had bought her, a neighbor’s porch. Fortunately, her nocturnal activity had decreased over the years and was now limited to her sitting up in bed, or occasionally strolling about the room.

"Donna," he said soothingly, "go back to sleep." Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t.

This time it did. She gently lowered herself back down and onto her pillow.

He moved to the bed and looked down at his wife of thirty years. She was still pretty in a simple, natural way that other women probably envied, and that he probably took for granted. As he watched her sleep, her face calm, her eyes closed, he felt a sense of loss, and a sad shadow crept over him. He stood there and tried to make sense of it, but the feeling faded.

He pulled the sheet up and over her shoulder, then dressed quietly and went downstairs. As he waited for Angelo, his driver, he gazed out the window. The block was dark and quiet and still and he let the solitude wash over and hold him. He had been on the swim team in high school, a diver, and he likened this moment to standing on the board, arms at his side, while everything below him waited. He stood there wrapped in the stillness, until he heard Angelo pull up, the headlights of the town car straining against the dark. Then he picked up his briefcase and glanced down at his watch. For once, Angelo was right on time. It was four A.M.

Excerpted from The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris.

Copyright © 2009 by Jim Kokoris.

Published in November 2009 by St. Martin’s Press.

All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

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Reading Group Guide

About the Book

Charlie Baker—a neurotic but charming 50-year-old workaholic CEO of a major Chicago ad agency—seems to have it all: a huge house in an upscale suburb, an equally huge salary, the requisite pretty wife and accomplished son. All of this comes crashing down when Charlie is unceremoniously fired. In an instant, Charlie's life is transformed from corporate titan to just another out of work American.

For Charlie—an admitted workaholic—a world without a job to go to is a strange world indeed. Rather then tell his family, every morning Charlie leaves home to spend his days at an outplacement firm, where he meets a cast of equally desperate corporate misfits. Charlie reluctantly embarks on a journey of self-discovery, trying to find his way out of the working life, and back to his real life—and his family.

Funny, touching, and ultimately, hopeful, The Pursuit of Other Interests offers a glimpse into the workings of corporate America, as well as into the lives, hearts and minds of the 21st century American family.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 8, 2011

    laugh out loud

    I loved this book! Belly laughed! Fun to read

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    This is an amusing look at middle age unemployment

    In Chicago Charlie Baker became the managing head of the ad firm because his predecessor died and he was the heir apparent after almost three decades in the business. Charlie is known for his temper and his political incorrect memos like his fat note. With the economy in free-fall, someone must take a hit so Charlie, notorious for frenetic management approach, is fired.

    Fifty year old advertisers do not find work in a recession. Home more, Charlie thinks he can hide the loss of his annual 400K salary before bonuses from his neglected wife Donna and his teen son Kyle for now. However, Donna announces she is going to Maine while Kyle tells him they both know he was canned. He spends time at an outplacement center with other middle aged fired execs who he initially detests but soon along with the consultant counselor Ned Meyers he begins to appreciate them as refugees tossed aside by political and economic voodoo. As he begins to get close with his family, an opportunity surfaces for an exec position.

    This is an amusing look at middle age unemployment of an executive used to getting his way. The story line is fast-paced and filled with humorous commentary, but the jocularity never turns scathingly satirical. Ergo in spite of an entertaining well written tale that readers will enjoy immensely, the audience also will muse on what could have been.


    Harriet Klausner

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  • Posted March 8, 2010

    I loved this funny, touching story!!

    "The Pursuit of Other Interests" is an engaging, witty tale about a 50-year-old man's attempt to reclaim his life after an abrupt firing. It follows the journey to redemption by Chicago advertising executive Charlie Baker. A self-centered workaholic, Charlie has neglected his wife and son for many years. Slowly realizing what he has lost in his climb to the top, Charlie awkwardly attempts to win his family back. His interactions with a group of corporate rejects at an outplacement company further enhance his growing realization of what's really important in life.

    Mr. Kokoris has magnificently written a humorous, engrossing story, with an appealing cast of amusing, endearing characters. This novel was incredibly captivating and very hard to put down. In today's economic climate, I think we can all relate to this story in some way, shape, or form. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this amazingly entertaining novel and I highly recommend it!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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