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The Office Tower Tales

The Office Tower Tales

Published 2008 by the University of Alberta Press

ISBN 0888645023

About this book

The Office Tower Tales takes its starting point from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, but moves the story-telling six centuries forward and several thousand miles to the northwest.

Readers meet receptionist Aphrodite, Pandora from accounting and Sheherazad, the girl from public relations. They gather to share coffee breaks and lunch hours in Commerce Place. During a nine-month period that builds toward the year 2000 and the birth of Pandora’s first (and illegitimate) granddaughter, Sheherazad tells her friends seventeen tales that halt the hectic march of time and speak to their concerns about growing old, working, loving, and living in an urban world.

The Office Tower Tales received the Pat Lowther Award (best book of poetry by a Canadian woman, from the League of Canadian Poets) and the Book Publishers Association of Alberta award for “Trade Book of the Year (Fiction).” It was also shortlisted for the City of Edmonton Book Prize.

Experience a poem

Text poem – Prologue to The Office Romeo’s Tale

Video – Alice reads The Office Romeo’s Tale (posted by the Canadian Literature Centre)


“Pandora’s box is open, and out come tales spun by Sherry. The Office Tower Tales is about the vivacity of life and living. It expertly weaves the mundane things of life into a tapestry of priceless collectables. The tales paint life with a new brush, post-modern paint, and extraordinary strokes. They are mythical, classical, and iconoclastic. Not since Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales have we seen the frame narrative, now a mock epic for a contemporary audience. This is an epic work, huge in scope; an examination of the minutia of the ordinary lives of recognizable people, using the tropes of mythology as its metaphoric base.”

Jury Comments, Pat Lowther Award

“One thing Major does extraordinarily well is to bring the characters in the stories to life through well-crafted metaphors that suggest an uncanny range of emotion. Her language is consistently at this high level, making the collection readable, memorable, and enjoyable.”

Ian LeTourneau, Legacy Magazine

“… a work which employs the forms of such classics as The Thousand and One Nights and The Canterbury Tales proves that Major does indeed have the chops to carry off a project of this length and depth.”

Ronnie Brown, Canadian Bookseller

“Alice Major, Edmonton’s first poet laureate, has been a central part of a fulmination in the local literary scene. Her great success has been to marry art and entertainment with narrative poems that are thoughtful and funny, intelligent and accessible.”

Todd Babiak (Review of Fringe Theatre Festival performance of The Office Tower Tales, August 20, 2008)

“[The Office Tower Tales] is probably also Alice Major’s greatest work. … an ambitious, accessible, and entirely provocative exploration of the power of women’s stories.”

Jay Smith, Vue Weekly

“This long poetic work is both extremely readable and erudite. My first reading of the book was to enjoy the understated and solid poetry and to take in the modern themes. The food court descriptions are exquisitely captured in the prologues. References that might not work in another type of poem gleam here. Instead of Mount Olympus or the road to Canterbury as backdrop, here there are skyscrapers, fast-food kiosks and plastic chairs overlooking a heavily trafficked street. Sheherazad tells wide-ranging stories about abortion, breast cancer, divorce, threatened rape, and more….My second reading of the tales involved hauling out a stack of marginally dusty books from my English undergrad days — a Norton anthology or two, Tales from the Thousand and One Nights, Ovid, Hesiod, and a classical mythology textbook. There is a lot of fun to be had comparing Major’s tales to her precursors, and in working out how her Pandora relates to the Pandora of ancient Greece, but the scholarly context isn’t necessary to draw pleasure from this book.”

Shawna Lemay, Edmonton Journal, April 27, 2008

“Alice Major’s tremendous new book of poetry takes a cue from a sprawling epic of English literature, The Canterbury Tales, but grounds its pilgrims in present-day Edmonton and the meaningless office drudgery of the 9-to-5 life….Each story has a five-line stanza form, and each stanza contains a rhyme and closes with a short line. ‘I needed something that would sound conversational and give me strong rhythmic presence as well,’ Major said. ‘It’s a project where you’re solving all the problems and challenges of poetry as well as the challenges of fiction. There were days when I wondered why I had set the limbo bar quite that low.’ The Office Tower Tales are populated by solitary souls working and loving and growing old in an urban world. There’s a young woman who longs to become a police officer; a waitress torn between her girlfriend and her fundamentalist church; the office romeo from accounts payable; and a single woman “on the short cord of a secretary’s pay” who tries to fit in at work by fabricating a family. There’s a good deal of yearning in these pages but also a healthy dose of humour and, finally, of hope.

Richard Helm, Edmonton Journal, 

Alice Major plays confidently with words. Her poems are rich with assonance, half-rhyme and alliteration, as in this example (when the women join the summertime crowds outdoors in small green spaces):
“Vegetation has toughened up.
The park’s square of grass has matted
to a rough, tufted tan,
hunkered beneath the hustling, rapid
repeat of feet.”

Lovely imagery is found in the commonplace: “Aphrodite / takes up her cup again, holds it to her chest / like a portable heart.”

Lindy Reads and Reviews 

“… this book, Major’s ninth, has a number of unfashionable virtues, including entertainment value. It assumes that poetry is a natural narrative mode. … an enjoyable and ambitious romp.”

Maurice Mierau, Winnipeg Free Press

Buying a copy

Copies can be purchased through the University of Alberta Press website. It is also available as an e-book.

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