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Thomas Duffy
Stockboy Nation
Thomas Duffy, author

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Market)

Phillip Doherty is at a crossroads in his life. He has moved from New York to California. He is engaged to be married to his long-time girlfriend, Melissa, his career is going nowhere and his latest novel has flopped beyond a reasonable doubt. Phillip thinks his only way out of money troubles is to go back to retail by working for Milton's World of Fun which was the company where he worked when readers first met him in the original book, Stockboy (2013). Life doesn't work out easily for Phillip in a forever-changing world where things transform in the blink of an eye. This story is Phillip's journey to discover a new normal for himself and, somewhere along the way, decide what he will do for work. When confronted with another romantic partner, he also must re-evaluate his relationship and decide who he really loves. Stockboy Nation aims to make you laugh, cry and think in ways you've never done so before.
Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 5 out of 10
Prose: 6 out of 10
Character/Execution: 6 out of 10
Overall: 6.00 out of 10


Plot: Duffy's intriguing but somewhat convoluted plot falls short of enrapturing the reader due to a lack of clarity and structure. The pace here is strong, but Phillip's choices are confusing and difficult to track, and his fluctuating feelings for Melissa and Leann nearly pull the pace of the story to halt.

Prose/Style: Duffy's prose is clear, if at times stilted and fairly plain; additional flair and stylistic embellishment would much enhance the storytelling. Conversations between characters feel uncomfortable and strained, with short, clipped sentences that do not always convey real emotion or carry weight.

Originality: Here are all the standard trappings of a "mid-life crisis" novel, from Phillip's stalled writing career to his static relationship. Though the author explores intriguing interpersonal relationships, the story lacks elements that elevate the tale or add drama, making for a rather uninspired read.

Character/Execution: Phillip is decently sympathetic by nature of his current situation, but it's difficult to root for him; even as his narrative evolves, he does not captivate as a character. His fiancé Melissa is more of a dynamic individual, and readers will likely be happy about their separation and, thus, feel their reconciliation is unearned.

Date Submitted: June 06, 2020

This sequel to Stockboy is a timely but anemic story of a man’s midlife crisis during the age of Covid-19. Phillip Doherty is now 40-something, and his successful first book, a memoir about working in Manhattan at novelty bookstore Milton’s World of Fun, has not led to more writing success. Now living in San Diego and unable to find any sort of writing job, he begins working part-time at the local branch of Milton’s, much to the dismay of his live-in fiancée Melissa, a lawyer currently paying most of their bills. The romance is gone and Phillip is torn—should he return to New York and his old job or stay and pursue a relationship with LeAnn, an attractive college professor?

Duffy has the day-to-day stuff of working retail down pat, but Phillip is so indecisive that he wavers in his decisions almost as quickly as he makes them: Melissa or LeAnn, San Diego or New York City? The only thing he sticks with is his job, but with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic, even that may no longer be an option. A pagelong flirtation with religion goes nowhere, and the characters’ political discussions occasionally feel forced and unwieldy.

The story’s topicality is a boon. In the throes of a pandemic that already has killed many Americans, readers would think Phillip’s world might have grown desperately dark. Instead, he eats junk food and binge-watches television like so many people have. Duffy’s lead lacks agency, so his story is reminiscent at times of someone who begins journaling without much to say. But readers with similar experiences will find him relatable.

Takeaway: Readers looking for a novel about navigating a midlife crisis or being underemployed during Covid-19 will find familiarity in its lead character.

Great for fans of: Caitlin Kelly’s Malled, Matthew Quick.

Production grades
Cover: C+
Design and typography: B
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: B
Marketing copy: C+

Stockboy Nation by author Thomas Duffy is about life, career and searching for love at middle-age during our tumultuous era of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. Although a sequel to Stockboy (2013), the first is unnecessary to follow the plot of this novel.

Phillip Doherty has recently moved from his hometown of New York City to San Diego, CA, with his demanding fiancée Melissa. In the wake of publishing a poorly reviewed fantasy novel, he needs employment. Melissa, who works at a law firm, is tired of being his “sugar mama” and relentlessly nags him to contribute to their cost of living. She gives him a deadline to find a job, regardless of if it does not satisfy his career goals. Only after that accomplishment will she be amenable to planning their wedding — or even kissing him again. Thus motivated, Phillip begins his arduous job-hunt journey. 

Between attempts to work for a high-profile clothing company and a movie review website, among other colorful ventures, he meets LeAnn, a sociology teacher at the local community college. She sparks his interest, and when they meet again by chance, he realizes that Melissa might not be “the one.” 

Phillip reluctantly takes a job stocking supplies during the overnight shift at Milton’s World of Fun, a novelty bookstore. Here we encounter a cast of diverse characters, most notably a ladies’ man who becomes Phillip’s road-trip buddy when he abruptly decides to return to the Big Apple. There, he continues his struggle over which woman might best fulfill his happiness.

This straightforward narrative offers insight into the emotional toll of job hunting during a man’s middle-age years. Any reader who has struggled with the employment market or relationship disappointments will identify with Phillip’s yearning for a meaningful life. His daily activities reflect loneliness and frustration, the result of men’s worth being defined by their work status. Duffy, a veteran author, has a knack for authenticity that approaches memoir, causing readers to wonder if the novel is autobiographical.

The story also pushes to a deeper level about how depressing it is to stock items made by others while stuck in a rut. Phillip’s meaningless work represents the greater problems of corporate dominance and materialist priorities in America today. Nonetheless, Duffy lends us courage and hope in the face of such a product-peddling culture. Stockboy Nation should appeal to readers of social commentary and philosophical, memoir-like fiction.

Donovan's Literary Services

Stockboy Nation
Thomas Duffy
Independently Published
9798650072775             $10.99 Paper/$7.99 Kindle 

In Stockboy Nation, Phillip Doherty has made many big changes in his life, from moving cross-country to marry his long-time girlfriend to returning to a job he once loved years ago. His career is at a crossroads and his future as a writer is questionable when his novel fails to sell, so these changes seem to be appropriate moves for creating a better life. 

The fact that he's in his 40s is a minor obstacle to his dreams of success on many levels, but Phillip faces a series of challenges to his dreams, from his own approach to life to the addition of new possibilities which conflict with his set course.

As old relationships and goals end and new ones appear to be uncertain, Phillip comes to many realizations about his objectives and approach to life and love. This brings readers into a world of uncertainty and change that holds both promise and frustration. 

Thomas Duffy does a fine job of portraying the angst, twists and turns of fate and purpose, and changing world of a middle-aged man whose decisions aren't always productive, despite his long-term goals. His character is believable, the life encounters realistic, and the choices and options tumultuous. When the pandemic changes everything in an instant, his world turns upside down in a way that will feel more than familiar to all. 

As Phillip finds his life completely transformed suddenly and in unexpected ways, readers will relate to his evolving relationships, changing reactions, and survival tactics. Duffy also paints his romantic relationships with emotionally charged questions about opportunity to ultimate life goals: "You’re a runner. But, you’re getting a little too old to keep running. You have to settle down somewhere and with someone to be happy." 

Phillip's perceptions of personal and social challenge are nicely contrasted in encounters and dialogues which bring these issues to life: "I’m miserable. I’ve watched a few movies that made me laugh but only serve to remind me that my life isn’t going to amount to anything close to what I thought it would.”  “Let’s see what happens when the pandemic ends,” Melissa replied.  “If Yogi Berra was going to call my life, he’d say it’s “officially over.” 

Phillip's crisis is more than that of middle age—it's of life perspective and a future suddenly transformed by crisis. This bigger-picture story, which begins as a midlife crisis and moves into pandemic territory, is highly recommended reading. 

Where is the purpose in a life substantially revised? Duffy provides a moving story that closely examines breaking hearts, new opportunities, and changed lives. It's just the ticket for pandemic times. 

Duffy the Writer Blog

Duffy’s Thoughts On Stockboy Nation

I haven’t read Stockboy, and was wondering if I would be able to pick up the thread of Phillip’s story in Stockboy Nation. However, I really enjoyed Social Work, another of Duffy’s books so I thought I would give it a go.

Phillip is in his forties and after moderate success with the publication of one of his books, he thought he was on a trajectory for success money and the life of a successful author. However, all that came to a grinding halt when a departure from non-fiction for his next book was a complete flop. At mid-life Phillip is back where he started and the problem is, he has no idea which step to take next.

Thomas Duffy has a talent for creating characters with depth and realism. You won’t find fantastical plot lines, crazy twists or improbable scenarios in his books. Instead, you will find an intimate analysis about the lives, loves and struggles we all go through, explored through a small cast of characters.

Some readers may well find themselves frustrated with Phillip, the main character, as he bounces from one idea to the next, and those people really must have life all figured out! For me, Phillip’s tale triggered memories, regret and decisions in my own past which on reflection weren’t right for me.

I don’t feel my age, and I’m no stranger to being awake at 4am wondering what the hell I’ve been doing all this time, and all those years wasted in past relationships and jobs, settling for safe and comfortable rather than making the jump into a new life. As we all know, a gamble is just that. Making the jump doesn’t always pay off, so should we just stay in our lane and settle for what we know? This is the theme of Stockboy Nation.

Be prepared to have a mirror shone on your own life choices as you read Stockboy Nation. It’s a great read which at times will have you shouting at the page to make Phillip’s decisions for him!

Literary Titan

Phillip Doherty is a 40 something year old writer living with his long-term girlfriend Melissa in California. After publishing two books, the first one being a success and the second one the opposite. He is left with the feeling that his career is going nowhere and he has no steady job.

His girlfriend Melissa, tired of her jobless boyfriend and their financial status; encourages Philip to find a job. After many twists and turns, Philip decides to make a big change in his life and sets himself on a path of exploration into new romantic relationships and professional possibilities, discovering that life might be more complicated than expected.

Stockboy Nation is a contemporary fiction novel revolving around Philip, his romantic aspirations and his concerns about his professional and personal life. It’s a levelheaded look at what it means to be satisfied with your life. Phillip’s life, muted by failure, has potential to go in some interesting directions, and the novel does well to make these elements of choice and possibility stand out as characters of their own.

Thomas Duffy’s intriguing novel takes place between New York and San Diego and unfolds in what feels like a natural pace. Told from a third person perspective, it mainly presents Phillip’s outlook and shifting sometimes to other main character’s point of view, which was a nice change of perspective, but the star of the show remains Phillip.

Dialog is a big part of the narration and make up a significant percentage of the story. I felt that Duffy dialog feels like a natural interaction between the characters. Sort of an Aaron Sorkin level of intrigue, without the speed, and Stephen King’s depth, without the horror. I like the insightful atmosphere the book brings and I enjoyed the story’s pace however sometimes the dialog slowed the pace a bit.

The plot itself is relatable, because it comprises common issues that we all face throughout our lives, the kind of dilemmas adults encounter when decisions such as marriage, love and career goals are at stake. In addition, it tackles a very specific and current worldwide topic that any reader will relate too.

Phillips character went through a heft amount of changes and I enjoyed watching him evolve, but I would have also like to see that same shift in the other characters in the book. However, the main character’s personality is very well defined which made it easy to picture the story and get into the atmosphere.

The climax of the story was short and almost unnoticeable, it was nothing too dramatic, it felt like a story you hear from your friends over drinks, which can be good. I would recommend this book to people looking for a light reading experience or someone who is eager to have an introspective moment.

Online Book Club

With a failed writing career, unsuccessful job hunting and a cold-hearted fiancée, life could not get any bleaker for Phillip. He misses his single status and simple life. Many online applications later, he gets a job at bookstore in San Diego, California. His busy job as a stockroom clerk takes a toll on his relationship. With the sparks in their love life gone, Phillip’s eyes start wandering while Melissa begins wondering about other men in the law firm. Both begin having regrets and develop doubts about their life as an engaged couple. They seem to have nothing in common even as their jobs push them further apart. Eventually, they break up and Phillip is faced with an uncertain future even as he gets promoted. Stockboy Nation by Thomas Duffy presents one man’s journey as he faces the consequences of the choices he makes along the way.

Stockboy Nation presented many workplace issues and Duffy's narrative was amusing. Furthermore, the many types of relationships provided realistic and relatable issues. Duffy gave me a glimpse of the world of dating websites and a good narrative about the COVID-19 pandemic that caused many deaths around the world. He was able to make me visualize Phillip as the character went through challenging events.

Phillip was a weakling and pessimist. Though observant, he was inclined to stereotype and find faults in every person he encountered. He had no ambition and backed down from problems easily. He was one confused man. I found him dense, arrogant and unlikeable. I could not count the number of times I shook my head in disbelief at his actions. Phillip’s character was so negative I could not understand what endeared him to Melissa and his potential partner LeeAnn; I could not find any redeeming quality in him. His co-worker he called The Candy Man was likable than him and this character was far more interesting.

Melissa’s indifference to her relationship with Phillip was so clinical I could only laugh in disbelief. The couple’s sarcastic remarks at each other were humorous and confusing at the same time. Despite her apparent coldness and the casual way she talked about their relationship, I thought Melissa was a compassionate person. Despite LeeAnn’s unbelievable fascination with Phillip, I found her sweet and her logic feasible. I liked her character. It looked like all the characters around Phillip were way better than him.

The pacing of the first half of the book was very slow and dragging but the story picked up when the pandemic came into the story. The book’s setting amidst the pandemic made the novel current, relatable and it saved the book from being boring. If this aspect was removed from the story, the novel would be merely about a man suffering bouts of depression or going through a mid-life crisis. I commend the author for evoking varied emotions in me as I read the novel.

There were many missing punctuation marks like commas, hyphens, periods and quotation marks.

The novel was engaging hugely because of its relevance and the timely plot. However, the existence of many grammatical errors led me to believe a proofreading tool was unutilized. Thus, I give Stockboy Nation by Thomas Duffy 3 out of 4 stars.

If you like to read a novel about current world issues like depression, anxiety and the pandemic the world is fighting at present, Stockboy Nation is for you. But if you are looking for exciting romance or adventure, you have to look elsewhere.

Stockboy Nation

Pacific Book Review

Life can be a funny thing. You can live it for a long time and never really know if it’s the kind of life you want, or simply the kind of life you have, or maybe just the momentary life that’s leading to whatever the next life is that you’re going to lead. At least that’s the situation that Thomas Duffy’s protagonist, Philip, finds himself in within the pages of Stockboy Nation.

Philip is in his mid-forties. He’s gone to college, worked for a while in retail in New York. He’s even written a couple of books. One was relatively successful, the other wasn’t. He now finds himself on the opposite side of the country in San Diego living with Melissa. She’s working, he isn’t, and she’s getting a little tired of that. In fact, she’s convinced that Philip ought to be pulling a lot more of his weight.  So, Philip decides to abandon his literary life and goes back to basically being a stock boy with the same retail organization he worked with in New York.

As his relationship with Melissa deteriorates, he meets LeAnn, a teacher who seems to see things in Philip that he doesn’t necessarily see in himself.  If fact, Philip’s self-examination becomes so perplexed that he decides to leave San Diego, return to New York and see if he can somehow jumpstart a new life out of the old life he used to live. That doesn’t exactly work out the way he had hoped as he happens to return to New York just in time for the Covid-19 pandemic that throws all New Yorkers’ lives into more flux than they’ve ever known before. Soon, Philip is back on the road to San Diego and still trying to figure out whether he’s meant to have a life with Melissa, LeAnn, or no one at all.

Author Duffy tells Philip’s story straightforwardly. Most of what passes for action is found in the dialogue exchanges between Philip and the two most prominent women in his life. The writer also generates additional interest by creating characters which flow in and out of Philip’s world. One of the most memorable is an associate referred to as The Candy Man. His most remarkable feature is that he seems capable of seducing virtually any and all of his female coworkers in little to no time at all—both on premises and off.

More character study than plot based, this novel delves into choices we all have to make by exploring the choices Philip does or doesn’t make. Eventually he has to decide if he’s going to be forever a loner or if Melissa or LeAnn are destined to be ongoing parts of his life. What’s his decision? To find out, read Stockboy Nation.

Readers Favorite

Stockboy Nation by Thomas Duffy is an American mid-life crisis in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Phillip Doherty has let life drift alongside himself without actively taking part in it. When he wrote his first best-selling book about life as a stockboy in a New York bookstore, Phillip thought his life was about to change for the better. His first publishing contract led to a contract for a second book. His second story, an adult fantasy, was a spectacular flop and Phillip found himself unsure what to do next. He decides to go along with his live-in girlfriend and fiancée to San Diego but he has great difficulty finding work and deciding where he wants his life to lead. In a major step backward, Phillip finally accepts work at the San Diego branch of the bookstore where he first worked all those years ago in New York, still as a stockboy. When he meets a college lecturer, LeeAnn, and is attracted to her, he has to come to terms with his deteriorating relationship with Melissa and his directionless life. Phillip is lost in an ever-changing world that he doesn’t really seem to understand how to connect with.

Stockboy Nation is a story that many people will be able to identify with. It is an extremely common feeling that many of us feel overwhelmed by the events of the world, especially at a time like this, and we wonder how we can fit into this world that doesn’t seem to want to know us at all. Thomas Duffy has created a character that we want to simultaneously identify with and grab by the shoulders and shake some sense into. The relationship between Phillip and Melissa was definitely the highlight of the story for me. Clearly, they love each other but the question of how much is their being together just a matter of convenience and social convention for Phillip, but for Melissa also. I particularly enjoyed the angst Phillip felt over his aging and especially that all his coworkers were so much younger than him, as he had never climbed the corporate ladder like others of his generation. A gregarious, outgoing, people-person, Phillip found himself surrounded by coworkers of a much younger age who had little in common with him and this just exacerbated his loneliness that he felt in the workplace and also at home. Even though Melissa was there, they seemed to have lost that “magic” of the early part of their relationship. This is a good, thought-provoking read in a time of world turmoil.

Self-Publishing Review

A long-awaited sequel from author Thomas Duffy, Stockboy Nation is a portrait that many readers will recognize with a shiver, set as it is in the early days of the pandemic. The struggles of a normal couple trying to hold it all together as their lives careen out of control is a story that echoes loudly these days, and Duffy’s stark, realistic writing brings present-day anxiety to the fore.

After the success of his first novel and the failure of his second, Philip Doherty is trying to keep his chin up as the world comes crashing down. Desperate to make ends meet and be the kind of man his fiancee wants to marry, he returns to a piece of his past, hoping that it will give some clarity to his future. As can be expected, small slivers of hilarity and a good bit of heartbreak ensue, leading him to take a hard look at his life and ask the questions he’s been desperately avoiding.

While this is essentially a novel about a struggling writer on his own journey towards happiness, which is far from a rare premise, there is something immediate and believable in this iteration. Philip is floundering, leaping from one possible source of salvation to another, even if it means jumping back and forth across an entire country; he is an everyman, but one with self-awareness and depth, along with a decent moral compass. It is easy to slip into this world as it is so recognizable – the repetitive cycle of capitalistic demands and bills and romantic complications and the chronic stress of just scraping by. The timeliness and universality of this story cannot be overstated.

The overall quality of the writing could be improved, however, particularly the declarative and informative narrative voice. There is often little room for readers to breathe before the tangential prose drops in a major plot development, or shifts awkwardly into a new subject. The introduction of new characters, or the shifts between scenes, can feel jarring and rushed, with little description to pad the movement of the story. The pacing could generally be slowed down overall, allowing for more reflection or development of tension.

On the technical side, there are also a significant amount of grammatical mistakes, from missed commas that confuse meaning to repetitive sentences and flat or idiomatic word choices. A solid editing pass could make some of this prose shine, particularly in the more procedural moments.

That being said, the matter-of-fact tone does create a sense of authenticity, as the occasionally flat tone of the narrator and the tangible depression of the protagonist are recognizable now more than ever. While working through some of the curveballs the plot throws at him, Philip has some genuine moments of revelation and self-reflection, which keeps the novel deeply relatable, as everyone is suffering through some upended form of life during the present pandemic.

On this point, Thomas Duffy excels; writing such a relevant novel during such a troubled time is a service in itself, and this sharp, fast-moving story is a good reminder that we’re not alone, even when it feels that way.

The Prairies Book Review

A provocative tale of intricacies of love and close relationships…

In this beautifully constructed and paced, emotionally accurate tale, Duffy explores the searing emotions of ordinary people caught in unforeseen circumstances. His protagonist is Phillip Doherty, a struggling writer in his 40s, who in his efforts to make ends meet returns to his past, hoping to gain some clarity about his future. After audiences reject his second novel, Phillip is forced to look for a job that would at least pay some of the expenses he shares with his long-time fiancée Melissa. Unable to find work, Phillip decides to go back to retail at Milton’s World of Fun, the company where he worked earlier. But when a pandemic hits the world, Phillip’s world comes crashing down. His relationship with Melissa is over, his finances are in shambles, and there’s new woman in his life who seem too good to be true. Duffy lucidly explores the complex emotional atmosphere of a middle-age couple’s relationship struggles: why people, especially in their middle age adhere to the memory of their original love and find it hard to move on. His portrayal of Phillip and Melissa’s worries, self-doubts, self-contempt, their inability to reinvest their time and energy in another relationship, and their guilt over their helplessness to get over each other. Duffy has superb ear for voices, and he sketches his characters with both skill and perception. Phillip is flawed and thoroughly humane. As he makes uncertain steps in his new life, Duffy skillfully conveys his sense of dislocation and anxiety compounded by his sense of loss of his long-term relationship with Melissa. He beautifully portrays Phillip’s increasingly conflicted feelings about LeAnn, and his ultimate sense of realization and peace. The prose is crisp, and the mundane dialogue between Phillip and Melissa, between Phillip and the co-workers he meets at work are flawlessly created. As Phillip struggles to make sense of his own place in the increasingly changing world, Duffy makes him throw in plenty of observations about both life in general and in the new pandemic-hit world. The situation about Phillip and Melissa’s financial struggles and about the job market is uncomfortably real and hard-hitting at once. Duffy’s understanding of the complex anatomy of long-term relationships, of the stark financial realities of today’s pandemic-hit world, and of the humanity’s ability to survive calamities supply this evocative novel with the clarion ring of truth.