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Book Review: The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter

The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter. Glenn Seerup. Self-published, October 11, 2019, Trade Paperback and E-book, 262 pages. 

Reviewed by Lisa Lickel.

Time is the essence of this new work from architect Glenn Seerup. A self-proclaimed aficionado of Holden Caulfield, readers are challenged and amused to discover bits of Catcher in the Rye allusions in Seerup’s stories.

One March day in Chicago, life begins to unfold for recent industrial design graduate Hayden Carlisle. Realizing his talents and prickly personality are more suited to a smaller operation, Hayden takes a job with a toy design firm. The Plush Porcupine is past its heyday of once-popular unique toys and entering a downward spiral of ennui. Hayden is more interested in using the staff for a personal pet project—writing a best-selling documentary on his first, and probably only, year at the firm that will jumpstart his literary career—and initially has little other appreciation for corporate or personal intrigue.

Characters rarely get what they wish. Hayden is not the only hire at the Porcupine this special week. A promising, indeterminately-aged but highly motivated and challenging woman named Maxine Porter also starts work there. The reader follows Hayden and the members and friends of the Plush Porcupine during the rest of the tumultuous year.

The book is divided into months, with epigraphs that hint at the events to come. Chapters within the months are divided by Hayden’s journal writing in the first person and other chapters in a wandering omniscient voice that focuses on the personnel: company founder and owner Walter, whom Hayden admires; the troubled Marty, Walter’s friend and confidant who’s a talented designer in her own right; Scott, another focused toy designer; Matthew, the religious advertising guy; the ever-perky Caryn, who’s a designer but prefers to run the office and make sure everyone is greeted with a smile; and Adam, Hayden’s roommate. The story progresses as the force that is Maxine, with all her mystery and energy, firmly shakes up the world of the Porcupine. The staff wonders alternately if she’s an angel, an alien, or Mary Poppins. Maxine plows on, taking Hayden under her wing as her special assistant on an equally mysterious project dealing with virtual reality.

Meanwhile, each character’s personal and professional life plays out with Maxine’s golden prophetic aid, firm hand, and subtle dare to rise above. As the year moves onward, it’s obvious Maxine has a personal goal, and I had fun turning pages and wondering about it right along with the well-fleshed and interwoven characters. Participating in the story as the pieces come together is a delight for readers who enjoy character-driven set pieces with a subtle twist of fantasy.

Chicago comes alive as the designers and their friends and family invest themselves in their work and lifestyle choices. The Illuminating Occurrence of Maxine Porter is a fresh, thoughtful, feel-good tale of imperfect people learning to grow, work, and communicate in a joint effort to make a better future.


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