What happens when a preposterously lazy English teacher gets picked to direct the school play? Absolutely nothing. Thrift by Phil Church chronicles the semi-comical encounters of one teacher's attempt to squeak by on minimal effort and false pretense in a school system where apathy is the norm from students, teachers, and administrators alike.
The amazing thing about this book is how much effort the narrator puts into being lazy. While the characterization may be excellent on that point, it also serves as the book's downfall. The protagonist spends a lot of time drinking coffee and munching biscuits (cookies to those of us in the United States). He also makes a habit of avoiding conflict with his students to the detriment of classroom discipline. Some motivation is provided for his actions upon learning his father and brother are much more successful than him, and his fun-loving mother has made herself emotionally unavailable. It's natural for readers to want to see an emotional progression from the main character, but the lackadaisical teacher at the heart of this book makes no such journey.
Certain aspects of the plot ring true. Phil Church does an outstanding job capturing the inanity of classroom discussions that often go awry. But just when the reader thinks the man doesn't have a clue, hints are given that he has developed the awareness to read students' body language and he comes up with an interactive pre-reading assignment for Lord of the Flies. As a fellow educator, I could definitely relate to the notion that some of the most ineffective teachers are often the ones picked for promotion due factors that have little to do with being committed to education.
Other aspects of the plot are seemingly random, yet related to establishing the aimlessness of the main character, not to mention the roommate's seemingly random departure toward the end. His inability to ward off a potential love interest is in keeping with his passive personality, and the landlady at the local pub also finds him attractive (in a creepy way). Despite all that lady love, his character never comes across as particularly handsome or charismatic. A brief stint as a private investigator, bachelor party supervisor, and best man at his brother's wedding had the potential to deepen the plot, but unfortunately did not circle back to fully shedding light into why he's such a lazy bum.
A minor character named Rab added a delightful literary depth to the story since he acted as the voice of public opinion toward teachers. In true passive fashion the narrator never stands up for himself or his profession, which isn't surprising, but utterly a let-down for the story. The desire to want to be successful is inherent in all of us, but along the way that drive often gets distorted in the most heartbreaking ways.
A sequel appears to be in the works and it is my hope that the author can do more to justify his protagonist's sluggish propensities in addition to clarifying what exactly it is that the character wants, even if that want is truly just to skate by.