Discount, Casey Gray’s debut novel, is set in the American Southwest, forty miles north of Juárez. This ambitious, tragicomic, and ultimately redemptive novel follows a group of customers and employees through the twenty-four hour work cycle as they seek comfort and sustenance inside of the cinderblock walls of a classic American institution—The Superstore.
On the eve of the company president’s visit to the store, a manager’s drunk text to a coworker leads to a series of consequences as brutal as they are wide-ranging: Everyone around him will be affected.
With a cast of characters featuring Ernesto, a local gang member struggling to choose a job pushing carts over a desultory life as a drug dealer; Wilma, a grandmother working double shifts to support her family; and Keith, a high school student with a penchant for filmmaking, Gray offers a startlingly humane, utterly contemporary portrait of life on the suburban fringe.
A vision of an America barely getting by and assaulted by crime, corruption, and exploitation in all of its manifestations, Discount is nevertheless a triumphant and big-hearted novel that marks the arrival of a new voice we won’t soon forget.
You did a lot of hands-on research and I heard that you spent years writing DISCOUNT. Tell us a little about the experience of working in a big box store and how you used these experiences in the novel.
I was an adjunct professor for years, which is its own kind of exploitative racket. I didn’t get any classes one semester because of some FTE bullshit, so I got a job in the Wal-Mart Deli. I had already begun the novel, and I needed a job. I desperately wanted to work at a Wal-Mart, but I kept failing the personality tests they give you. A student I used to help in the writing center, a really great guy, finally got me on. He was a model employee and an incredibly hard worker that everyone (including me) respected immensely. When he vouched for me, I was in.
Working at Wal-Mart is exhausting. I was determined to do a good job. Because this guy vouched for me, because I didn’t want to approach it like an interloper, and because everything you fail to do affects someone else, someone tired, someone working a shitty job just like you are. If you leave the dishes in the sink, someone’s got to do them in the morning. If you leave the grease in the fryer, someone has to drain it. If you don’t wrap the cold salads correctly, someone has to remake them. It’s like living in a family, or, maybe more correctly, a really intense roommate situation. I never wanted to be the lazy asshole that people had to pick up after. I can honestly say that I was a hard worker and a model Wal-Mart employee during my time there.
I learned a lot about being tired, just dog tired every day. I had had shitty jobs before, and I went to school on an athletic scholarship, so I knew something about hard work. But working at Wal-Mart is different. It’s hard to explain. It’s not like working your way through college waiting tables or a summer landscaping job. It’s hard to see your way out of it. I had a terminal degree, and there were still days I thought that I would be stuck there forever. It was much more real for a lot of the people I worked with. Those feeling, I guess––I hope they bled into the novel.