While Reading...

When can disbelief no longer be suspended?

suspension-of-disbelief-11-638If you’re a longtime reader of popular fiction, you know that suspension of disbelief is a necessary part of the reading experience. Yes, it’s often extremely unlikely that so many things will coincidentally fall into place to result in the perfect happy ever after. In real life, it probably wouldn’t happen that way. But, if it’s not completely outrageous, we can look the other way and allow ourselves to escape from our reality.

But when is it too much? Where’s the line? There are any number of books that I enjoyed, except for that one scene that I just couldn’t swallow, to the point that if I re-read the book, I skip that scene. Other books, I found had so many unbelievable incidents that I never read them again, which is a huge statement for me, since I re-read nearly everything. And a few books, I actually stopped reading because my disbelief couldn’t be suspended.

I have a specific example in mind. I will preface my comments by saying there were a few elements of characterization that had already started niggling at me when I got to the point of disbelief, so my decision to stop reading was partially influenced by that. This book – the series, actually – has received rave reviews and proven to be extremely popular. I didn’t get very far in – a personal decision that I may one day change. It is set in Australia, which is always attractive to me, because for so long reading choices in my favorite genre were limited to US and UK settings, and it’s nice to see something a little more familiar.

To set the scene: the heroine has a shit-head for a boyfriend. She finds he’s cheating on her, and decides to change her life and get out of town for a while. She’s going to take six or so months and drive around the country. Personally, in real life I’ve found spur-of-the-moment decisions like that to be shortsighted and impractical, but it does happen, and for the context of a romance novel, it totally works. So, this woman calls her boss – she’s a real estate agent for a small company – and tells her the plan. Here is serious suspension of disbelief starts, because in real life, the most likely outcome, especially for a small business, is for her boss to wish her well and warn that her job may not be available when she gets back. Except, it turns out that her boss’s daughter (or niece, my memory’s not clear on this) has been looking for something to do and can easily step into the job for a while, until our heroine is ready to come back. Hey, it’s unlikely, but it can happen, even in real life, and we’re suspending disbelief for now. The plan is in action!

And now we find out that money is not going to be an issue during this road trip, because our heroine has, in seven years, never taken vacation time, and is owed seven years’ worth of leave. Bzzzzt! That’s it, line crossed.

I’ve worked for both small businesses and national and multinational organizations, and never once have I heard of a company that would allow an employee to accrue annual leave for seven years. Many don’t let you accrue it for more than eighteen months. Why? Because it’s a liability for them. Here in Australia, permanent full-time employees are entitled to four weeks of paid annual leave every work year. When you take that leave, your employer needs to ensure your workload is covered, which often means hiring a temp, which is an additional expense. Alternatively, in an industry like real estate, if you’re not working, you’re not generating income. In this specific instance, our heroine’s boss is paying her and also paying her daughter/niece, and only one of them is actually doing any work. That might work for a short time, but for six months or so? I can’t see any fiscally responsible business owner being okay with it, or any small business being able to support it.

Also consider if you leave your job. Your employer is legally required to pay out any outstanding annual leave. If she’d quit instead of asking for time off, her boss would have been up for a lump-sum payment of (based on a quick Internet search of the real estate industry’s average wage) more than $20,000. That’s a lot of cash for a small business to have liquid. Even if the boss was a complete ditz with minimal knowledge of running a business, surely whoever does the company taxes would have pointed out the big, fat liability of twenty-eight weeks of annual leave owed to one person? Employers have the right to enforce annual leave because they are the ones who are liable for the expense, and while some allow their employees to accrue leave for a year or two – especially if there is a plan, like that fabulous six week trip to Europe or South America – it seems beyond disbelief that anyone would allow leave to accrue for seven years.

What do you think? Am I on the money? Or am I overreacting?

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