Office Girl

By Joe Meno

2,384 ratings - 3.18* vote

No one dies in Office Girl. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic collapse. Nothing takes place during a World War.Instead, this novel is about young people doing interesting things in the final moments of the last century. Odile is a lovely twenty-three-year-old art-school dropout, a minor vandal, and a hopeless drea No one dies in Office Girl. Nobody talks about the international political situation. There is no mention of any economic

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Book details

Hardcover, 293 pages
July 3rd 2012 by Akashic Books
ISBN
1617750751 (ISBN13: 9781617750755)
Edition Language
English

Community Reviews

Paquita Maria Sanchez

Man, it has been a long time since I've added anything to my "shit" shelf. Then again, I'm not a sadistic reader; I don't tend to waste concentration on anything I see myself hating in advance, because that thing Frank Zappa is said to have said about books and time or whatever. A couple of my goodreader friends rated this novel pretty highly, and despite warnings that it was a little too twee-t at times, I was assured in reviews by trusted sources that it was still a rewarding read, and I thought I'd give it a shot because I am expanding my horizons and modernizing my lit knowledge and pushing my boundaries and, come to think of it, making this new-ish personal goal sound way more important than it actually is, even to me. Also, I couldn't get a hold of The Boy Detective Fails as easily, which is the Meno I really wanted to read, and still do...hesitantly. The best thing about this novel? The cover looks like a Belle & Sebastian album, and I've always loved those, aesthetically. Some would maybe even argue that the style was straight-up aped right down to the font, but B&S appropriated that look largely from French Pop records of the Gainsbourg School, and I didn't fault them for it. So, sure. Nice cover. Here in the build-up to the hate review is about where I would generally place any additional compliments I could muster for the sake of fairness, but I'm tapped. This book and I are not friends.

It's just that it's of that Garden State ilk, where forlorn, lost boy meets hopeful, flighty, largely vacuous girl, they have a go at exchanging fluids in montage, sticking their heads out of car windows to taste the air, screaming off mountaintops, giggling and hand-holding and running away from the stares of passersby (not that they care! they are living, I tellsya! L-I-V-I-N-G!) after they do weeeiiiird, waaaacky, arrrrty shit in public because they're just so quirky and interesting and quirky and interesting, and listing off music in this way that made me feel like I was scanning a Pitchfork review or flipping through the AllMusic Guide rather than reading a novel. Then maybe it all falls apart, but maybe she just weally, weally changed him fowever and it was all worth it in the end. Blech. Emo wackery, Human Prozac-Vagina Miracle Cure nonsense. The notion that the only thing required to "fix you" is the company of a single "interesting" person who's willing to listen to your pity-party, nodding along sagely while maybe jerking you off on a few occasions as Truffaut movies play in the background. Man, your life must be really boring if that is the pinnacle of profound and memorable experience for you and, coming from me, that's fucking sad.

So, that's the book. Yep, that's pretty much it. Now I am going to nitpick a few things that especially drove me batty-shit.

First, there is a scene early in the novel where our Pixie Girl is fumbling through her clothes, and puts on a Suicide tee because apparently all her other shirts for obscure-ish bands are just way too dirty at the moment. A few pages later, she slow-dances with a former lover to this music she doesn't recognize, so she asks who it is, this music they are dancing to which she does not know at all and whoever could it be, ever? And it is The Police. I'm sorry, but I refuse to accept that I could possibly live in any sort of world where there is a single random 90's Chicago art girl who knows who Alan Vega is, but couldn't identify Sting's singing voice in a lineup. Too much suspension of disbelief. Painful fabrications. G' fuck yaself.

On another music-related note, the chick's favorite song? After Hours by The Velvet Underground, which is a lot like saying Yellow Submarine is your favorite Beatles song. I realize I could be starting to sound like a real asshole here, or maybe even everything I hate about these characters with the snobbery and the name-dropping, but you open yourself up to these types of criticisms when you start swinging the music references around as freeball-style as this book does. Research. Research is good.

The last technical gripe, and my biggest, is something a lot of people probably wouldn't even notice, but given the particulars of my current vocational situation, it made me want to scream. First, you should know: I work in the surgical unit of a hospital, frequently suiting up, sorta like a less intense version of the scary CDC bad gubberment guys in zombie/infection flicks, to go in and sterilize wires, pressure-cuffs, beds, and floors touched by patients with contact-spreadable infections from bacteria, namely Staphylococcus and Clostridium difficile. Making sure they don't get tracked all over the joint, you see. It's a pretty low-rung position, but extremely important to do right, for obvious reasons. Well, there's a scene late in the novel where our boy-wonderstruck goes to visit a recently sliced-open relative who has contracted MRSA, post-op. People, MRSA is a staph infection. A multi-drug-resistant staph infection. Sick folks lose limbs and die in hospitals over this type of shit. Oh, but! In this heartwarming scene, our leading man struts right into his relative's hospital room, with no nurses (who should really be in masks, and gloves, and gowns, and footies) stopping him to be like "Oh, uh, don't touch anything. And use the following safety precautions. Such as wearing this gown, and these gloves, and..." But no, he just sits right down and grabs his stepdad's bare hand, kisses his bare hand, doesn't wash his own hands, and then hustles his petri dish self all the way out the door, back on the streets of Chicago, riding to his dream lady's garage sale where he flips through some books and other shit, buys something with a dollar bill because fuck it, she broke my heart anyway, then goes into his call-center job where he continues to wipe his evil funk all over additional communal spaces. At this point, I had a pretty morbid hope-fantasy where this novel took some sort of totally weird turn in which it became like a Soderbergh flick, and the MPDG plotline was just a ruse masking this badass last act plague tale. Not that MRSA is like the plague, but it got me thinking. And it didn't happen. Don't go into a contact precaution room without taking contact precautions, is my point. Not that any hospital staff would even let you get away with it, and if they would, never ever go within a thousand feet of that hospital. Also, don't incorporate medical problems into your novels without at least googling them first.

I dunno, stuff like that.

Nikki

A soft patchwork quilt of hipster clichés, sewn together by a manic pixie dream girl whose tiny white hands will also commit derivative art terrorism, cut trendy uneven bangs, and write Big Ideas in a colored Moleskine notebook. It's like an American Apparel ad had sex with a Target commercial and conceived a novel. 

Jessica Jeffers

I am not the right audience for this book.

It's about an early twenties artist lady who makes bad romantic decision after bad romantic decision, then meets Jack, an early twenties artist fellow and they decide to be artistic together in their own way.

This summer, my boyfriend dragged me to a super-hipster concert at a hipster-favored bar. It was his birthday, it was a free show, and he'd been looking forward to it for a while so I was a good sport. I stood there and did my best to pretend I was enjoying it. I mean, I hated it but I wanted him to have a good time so I wasn't going to tell him I hated it. Afterward, a friend asked me about the venue and my response was, "There was just so much ironic crochet." That's all I could think of while I was reading this book: ironic crochet.

Odile, the main character with the impish name, is like the most extreme form of human being parodied by Parks and Rec's April Ludgate: On the outside, at least, she hates everything except the things that she loves ironically. I just don't get people like that at all. I mean, I am all for being unique and liking what you like and marching to the beat of whichever drum you want, but seriously: what is the point of being so bitter while you're doing it?

When Odile goes to an art show opening:
It’s her friend Liz’s opening, and all of the art looks like it’s been done by deranged teenage boys, like it’s part of some gigantic game of Dungeons and Dragons, or else it’s been inspired by anime or video games; it’s full of weird purple tentacles and vaginas with teeth, and all of it is lacking any kind of originality, none of it does anything for her, and so she drinks.
That's how I felt reading this book. I wanted to drink, even on the bus at 7 AM. Alternatively, I debated writing a review about how this book is just bout the color of various objects. Twice on the first page Meno referred to Odile's "gray skirt." The first chapter alone refers to her green bicycle, green scarf, pink mittens, pink underwear. What is that?

If you like stuff like photos of topless Storm Troopers, you might like this book. I could barely make it through. I shoulda known by the hip, ironic san serif font.

Michelle

I hate-finished this book. Have you ever disliked a book and finished it only because you wanted to have a clear and precise explanation of what was wrong with the book? I also finished it because I hoped the ending would salvage the rest of the book.

Summary: It's 1999 and two 20-something slackers make art and love in Chicago. That's it. The plot is so thin it could start a high-fashion modelling career.

The good: The writing can be pretty darn good. The illustrations and photos are unobtrusive but don't add much to the text.

The bad: The office girl of the title is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl who is there to save the male author, I mean, protagonist. It's not like he's a paper-thin expy of the author. The author loves giving female characters pretentious French names (Odile, Isobel, Elise). It's a bit exhausting and sad. Someone must have told the author that Odile was a MPDG because he writes the first few chapters from her p.o.v., but the rest of the novel is from Jack's perspective and about Jack. She never feels like a real character (despite having a family back in Minnesota and a roommate) and it's annoying. She also doesn't take any sort of responsibility for her actions. She acts like everything just happens to her and you get a feel that a lot of her dialogue was probably cribbed from some of the author's ex-girlfriends.

Also, in a very 1990s way, nothing happens. They're slackers and they're so unmotivated that it drives me nuts. Seriously, they have no motivation except these half-thought out hazy ambitions. "I dunno" and "okay" feature a lot in the dialogue.

Bottom line: I can't believe he teaches fiction writing. Wait, beautiful prose and almost no plot. Yeah, but I still feel sorry for his students.

Oriana

Oh no. I hate myself for saying this, but Office Girl is maybe too precious. I mean it's sweet and angsty and hipstertastic and I did like it... but lots of people will hate it, which makes me sad, because Joe Meno is so terrif.

I mean, look. It's manic-pixie dreamgirl to the core. Sad boy whose life is going nowhere meets quirky girl who refuses to believe her life is going nowhere and they do a lot of "art terrorism" and ride their bikes and have sex and watch French movies and fuck with each other's emotions. They go to an "imaginary buildings" party where everyone has to dress as a building. They bike through the snow, back and forth and back and forth. She tags things with a silver paint pen, he carries a tiny tape recorder and records the ambient city, sounds like a balloon floating away or snow falling or whatever. They are both lost and confused and searching, and they find each other and feed off each other's mania for a little while and then it ends and is sad.

As with most MPDG plotlines, the boy is nowhere near a match for the girl. I got pretty tired of him following along behind her like a puppy and basically going "What? We're really doing this? Why? How? Wait for me!" He is mostly paralyzed by inaction, indecision, and self-loathing, which gets a little tiring. And she is kind of a bitch much of the time, and pretty self-absorbed. Basically they are both early-twenties art-school dropouts, which, I don't know, is territory ripe for plumbing, but is also always right on the line between scintillating and twee.

So, in conclusion, there's lots of beauty and ache, but the preciousness kind of looms up too large sometimes and makes it feel clichéd.

Liked but didn't love. Hurry up and write something else, Joe!

Fuzzy Gerdes

Erica was getting a haircut in Lincoln Square, so I did the requisite Gene's Sausage Shop shopping and then wandered into the Book Cellar. Right at the front they had a stack of Joe Meno's latest, Office Girl, with a "Autographed Copy" sticker on them. Well, I thought, even if it sucks, at least I'll have a signed copy, so I bought it and sat down with a cup of coffee. When Erica called to say she was done with her haircut, I was a third of the way through the book. We went home and I read the rest in one long session on the couch. Well, wait, that's not strictly true, because as I approached the end of the book I kept taking breaks because I knew that once I finished I wasn't going to be reading the book anymore and I wanted to put off that moment. Do you know what I mean?

The book is set in Chicago in the winter of 1999 and follows a young man and a young woman, who we meet separately and then together as they begin to go out. Both are former art school students (graduate and drop-out, respectively) now working terrible office jobs.

I moved to Chicago in 1999, so that winter was my first winter here, but the book didn't resonate with me necessarily because that was my life or anything--I was 30 by the time I moved here, with a computer science degree and a pretty good job. It's just a really good book, about like people and a bit about art, and about just making decisions and stuff.

Jason Pettus

(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

Regular readers know that I am a longtime fan of Chicago contemporary lit legend Joe Meno, one of only a handful of local authors here right now to have broken through into national-scale reputation, media attention and resulting sales; and there have been projects of his in the past that I've really loved, and ones I found only so-so, and ones I thought…er, not so so-so, so I'm never exactly sure what I'm going to get when I dive into a new one. But this latest, from our friends at the great Akashic Books and being released just this week, is a different thing altogether from anything else in this shapeshifter's career -- deliberately small and intimate, and easy to dismiss at first as the meaningless musings of hipster douchebags, by the end it manages to be rather wistful, heartbreaking and melancholy, a sneakily tight manuscript that gets better and better the farther you read. Essentially the full beginning-to-end tale of one of those torrid three-week romantic relationships that litter so many of our pasts, and set among good-looking twentysomething art-school dropouts because, hey, why not, Meno's point here is to look at one of these people who sometimes just randomly blows into our lives for a bit, changes it profoundly, then just as randomly leaves again for the entire rest of your life; and by following it in its full messy glory, Meno's bigger point is to remind us of why these experiences are so important, why we remember them so nostalgically and positively for nearly the rest of our lives. Set during the Great Chicago Blizzard of 1999, the entire book has a muted and closed-in tone that serves its Before Sunrise feel well; and although Meno occasionally leans on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl tropes a bit too much (she has doe eyes and a thrift-store coat! She bicycles in the snow! She does impromptu absurdist performance art on the el!), by humanizing her in a sophisticated and complex way he largely avoids the biggest sins of that cliche, making this a quickly paced charmer that I suspect will eventually be one of the most popular titles of his career. A novel just begging to get adapted into the quirky movie debut of the next big national indie-film darling, it comes strongly recommended to existing fans of Garden State and (500) Days of Summer; and don't forget that I recently had a chance to sit down and talk with Meno here in Chicago for nearly an hour almost exclusively just about this book for the CCLaP Podcast, so I hope you'll get a chance to check that out as well when it's available next week.

Out of 10: 9.4

Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

"You are not doing so good at being happy.

Stop believing pop culture will save you.

Unimportant things are the most important.

Anything that lasts longer than ten seconds is a lie.

We are looking out for you.



Alphonse F."


Odile is a 23-year-old art school dropout who works dead end office jobs while dreaming of starting an art movement. She also makes a lot of bad decisions in her relationships because she cares too much about whether people like her.

Jack is a 25-year-old uncertain of his future, especially now that his wife of barely a year is leaving him to attend school in Germany.

The two meet while working night shift at Muzac Situations, a company that sells music compilations to professional offices.  The two fall in love and begin their own art movement under the name Alphonse F., leaving graffiti around the city and spontaneously performing movie scenes or dressing up like ghosts on the bus.
This movement pushes both Odile and Jack to decide on a future, even if it means going separate ways.

This was a super fast and quirky read.  I've loved all of Joe Meno's novels but reading this in my thirties now that I'm a little older and therefore more jaded, this felt a little too quirky and angst ridden for me. I loved the photographs and sketches throughout. I could definitely see this as an indie film --- the book had that vibe and the atmospheric details really brought the scenes to life.

Office Girl is a book for readers who appreciate quirky and meandering contemporary fiction.

For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com

Carolee Wheeler

You could probably criticize this author for writing shallow characters, or for just inventing the messed-up, Manic Pixie Dream Girl he really wants to date, or call the whole story facile or something, but it was the book version of a movie like Say Anything, where you really enjoy it if you don't think about the whole thing too much.

I loved the idea of Odile the twee art terrorist, and I thought her impulses were right-on, as far as railing against the status quo was concerned. That is all.

Toby

Allow me to sum up my feelings for this book through song.

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