It's easy to be infuriated by Misha Glouberman. He's cornered the market on whimsy—he works as a charades teacher, for example, and his answer to most of life's problems appears to involve making up and then playing a game of some sort. His friend Sheila Heti, whose novel Ticknor was an intricate little masterwork about a forgotten biographer of a great man, was so enamored with Glouberman's wit and wisdom that she compiled a book, The Chairs Are Where the People Go, based on hours of his insights on city life.
The Glouberman that Heti chooses to portray in Chairs feels like a poofy little poodle of a human being with a desperately sheltered urban existence—the big central event of Glouberman-the-character's life, the longest passage in the book by far, is about how he formed a neighborhood association to do battle with a noisy bar that wanted to build a patio. This event—this mighty struggle against the "siege" of bar noise and the "shocking" apathy of city employees toward Glouberman's plight—echoes throughout the pages of Chairs. He refers back to the lessons he learned during this time of heartbreak and turmoil a half-dozen times through the book. Another longish chapter is about his daily battle with spam ("Spam filtering is very important to me"). At those points in Chairs, it's easy to picture Glouberman as Toronto's younger Andy Rooney, wringing wisdom from meaningless minutiae.
But these brief essays—most are just a page or two long—pile onto each other in an interesting, even hypnotic fashion (that's Heti's hand at work). As Glouberman explains why he enjoys making actors babble gibberish at each other, and as he lists some of the most difficult charades clues he's ever encountered (including Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, Guam, and 1984), you start to, grudgingly at first, fall for the guy.
Glouberman (again, the Glouberman that Heti gives us) is a decidedly urban figure; he's a white guy who lives in an affluent North American city at the beginning of the 21st century. His problems are not noteworthy when compared to, say, those of a soldier in Afghanistan. He has money issues, but he's still able to teach adults how to play games in the interest of self-improvement for a living. He's maybe in the top 1 percent of the most comfortable human beings in the history of the world. (And if you're reading this, you're probably in [or at least close to] that top 1 percent, too.)
When you get near the end of Chairs, you realize that all the stories have a common theme: Glouberman is most interested in teaching people how to communicate. That's a decidedly urban goal—cities would not be tolerable places without effective communication—but it's also a beautifully human goal. What Glouberman has learned from teaching and finding compromises and community with his neighbors can be used everywhere, to make life better for everyone. Without the struggle to find food or to simply stay alive, he can focus on bettering the fundamental glue that holds us all together.