In The Warehouse (Crown, Aug.), Hart imagines a future in which an über-Amazon company amasses a frightening amount of power over its workers and customers.
Where did you get the idea for The Warehouse?
In 2012, I read an article in Mother Jones by Mac MacLelland called “I Was a Warehouse Wage Slave.” It was about her experience working in a fulfillment center and how generally terrible it was—low pay, harsh conditions, and the way people were still lined up around the block for the gig. I had this flash of an idea, of this reaching an endpoint, where one company takes over the American retail economy and puts its workers into dormitory housing, like Foxconn does in Asia. I scribbled the idea down on a Post-It note.
Was Donald Trump’s election an influence?
I laid down a lot of the notes during the Obama years, so Trump’s presidency didn’t have a big effect on the book. The way government and the private sector intermingled was a mess long before Trump took office. Take the parking debacle in Chicago, where the city sold off oversight of a lot of its downtown parking to private investors. But the city did a bad job of negotiating the deal—those investors jacked up prices and are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars. Trump and his smoke-and-mirrors “fortune” aren’t the disease, they’re an end-stage symptom.
What aspects of your dystopic future do you think we’re close to realizing?
Most of it! I wanted everything in the book to feel very familiar. It’s set in a world where the retail economy and housing market have been reshaped to a large degree, but all the stuff within that—I wanted it to feel like a natural evolution. Once companies start pushing the live-work model, it’s all over. A lot of employers already expect you to work unpaid hours—imagine how bad it’ll be when you never actually leave work? And it might happen soon. The weekend we first went out on submission with this book, there was a story in the New York Times about how Facebook was exploring dormitory housing for its employees.
Do you have hopes the book will lead readers to action?
What I hope, more than anything, is that the book makes people consider the human cost of our comfort. Ordering something online and getting it two days later is great. But someone had to pick it off a shelf and deliver it to a conveyor belt for a dreadfully low wage in an unpleasant, possibly dangerous, work environment. I don’t think I’m going to end any conversations, but if I could start a few, that wouldn’t be so bad.