Office Girl

( 4 )


"Meno has constructed a snow-flake delicate inquiry into alienation and longing. Illustrated with drawings and photographs and shaped by tender empathy, buoyant imagination, and bittersweet wit, this wistful, provocative, off-kilter love story affirms the bonds forged by art and story."
--Booklist (starred review)

"The talented Chicago-based Meno has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999...A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a...

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Office Girl

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"Meno has constructed a snow-flake delicate inquiry into alienation and longing. Illustrated with drawings and photographs and shaped by tender empathy, buoyant imagination, and bittersweet wit, this wistful, provocative, off-kilter love story affirms the bonds forged by art and story."
--Booklist (starred review)

"The talented Chicago-based Meno has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999...A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending."
--Kirkus Reviews

"High on quirk and hipster cred."
--Publishers Weekly (Pick of the Week)

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 dreamer. Jack is a twenty-five-year-old shirker who's most happy capturing the endless noises of the city on his out-of-date tape recorder. Together they decide to start their own art movement in defiance of a contemporary culture made dull by both the tedious and the obvious. Set in February 1999—just before the end of one world and the beginning of another—Office Girl is the story of two people caught between the uncertainty of their futures and the all-too-brief moments of modern life.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Meno's 2004 novel, Hairstyles of the Damned, retains a loyal cult following, but that won't happen with this Y2K-set book. If this is a send-up of romantic comedies, then Meno isn't doing enough subverting. He still intimately knows his milieu: young, disaffected white couples wrestling with work, love, and the uncaring urban landscape. The protagonists here are art school dropout Odile, who huffs Wite-Out at her many office jobs, and mopey graphic designer Jack, whose wife has just left him for Berlin. They begin an affair and a micro-art movement. Sort of. "Jack puts his hands on her breasts from behind, and she does not say anything or move his hands away, and almost by accident he murmurs, I love you,' and she says, 'What?' and he says, 'Nothing. I just had to sneeze.'" Photographs by Todd Baxter and drawings by Cody Hudson are interspersed with mixed success. VERDICT Meno's descriptions of snow and Chicago's landscape can be lovely, even moving, but there's a problem when these passages are more compelling than the human characters and the plot.—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., FL
Publishers Weekly
In Joe Meno’s new novel, set in the last year of the 20th century, art school dropout Odile Neff and amateur sound artist Jack Blevins work deadening office jobs; gush about indie rock, French film, and obscure comic book artists; and gradually start a relationship that doubles as an art movement. They are, in other words, the 20-something doyens of pop culture and their tale of promiscuous roommates, on-again/off-again exes, and awkward sex is punctuated on the page by cute little doodles, black and white photographs (of, say, a topless woman in a Stormtrooper mask), and monologues that could easily pass for Belle & Sebastian lyrics (“It doesn’t pay to be a dreamer because all they really want you to do is answer the phone”). If the reader doesn’t recognize the territory being mined by the time Jack and Odile begin covering their neighborhood in cryptic graffiti credited “ALPHONSE F.” Meno (Hairstyles of the Damned) equips the book with two alternate titles—Bohemians and Young People on Bicycles Doing Troubling Things—that ought to straighten things out. High on quirk and hipster cred, the novel is light as air, surprisingly unpretentious, and extremely kind to its larky, irony-addled protagonists. Meno is really the heir to Douglas Coupland, who introduced this crowd in 1991’s Generation X. However, Meno’s sympathy for his heroes’ frustrations makes his novel more than merely endearing. Agent: Maria Massie, Lippincott Massie McQuilkin. (July)
From the Publisher

“The writing in this novel is crisp and clever. It’s art that’s at times beautiful without getting in the way of the story. Chicago becomes a character in the novel the way it does in the works of Nelson Algren and Saul Bellow, but it’s Chicago that is between Algren’s gritty streets and Bellow’s upscale avenues . . . It’s the kind of book that makes you blow off what you’re supposed to be doing so you can keep reading.”

“Young love. Bicycles. Art school. Joe Meno’s hipster romance about a couple going against the grain bubbles with funny dialogue and the charm of a French new wave movie (chalk it up to the whole defiant-youth-run-wild thing). Black-and-white illustrations by artist Cody Hudson and photos by up-and-comer Todd Baxter set the mood.”

Kirkus Reviews
Sometimes things just don't work out, no matter how hard we wish they would. But there's irony, so we have that going for us. Right? The talented Chicago-based Meno (The Great Perhaps, 2009, etc.) has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999. The titular protagonist is Odile, the arty, brazen and fearless 23-year-old who loves graffiti, the Velvet Underground's "After Hours," riding her bicycle around the city, and the married guy she can't have. She's also chronically unemployable, generous to a fault and susceptible to dumb mistakes like offering a sexual favor to a co-worker who can't keep his mouth shut, forcing Odile to quit and go take a crap job in customer service. Jack is a few years older and a spiraling tragedy of his own making. An art school graduate with no creative traction, he's devastated by his abrupt divorce from Elise, to whom he was married less than a year. To fill his soul, Jack records things, and Meno turns these fleeting sounds into mini-portraits. "Everything is white and soft and dazzling," he writes. "And Jack, in front of his apartment building, can't help but stop and record as much of it as he can. Because it's a marvel, an explosion, a cyclone of white and silver flakes." The encounter between these two creative iconoclasts is less courting and more epiphany, as they discover the amazing and transformative effects of love with a joy as naïve as that of children. Their story can be artificially cute, with secret messages scrawled on city walls and dirty magazines awash with surrealistic Polaroid snapshots. But when things Get Weird as things do when we're young, Meno is refreshingly honest in portraying the lowest lows and not just the innocent highs. A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781617750762
  • Publisher: Akashic Books
  • Publication date: 7/3/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 304,535
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Joe Meno: Joe Meno is a fiction writer and playwright who lives in Chicago. He is a winner of the Nelson Algren Literary Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Great Lakes Book Award, and was a finalist for the Story Prize. He is the author of five novels and two short story collections including The Great Perhaps, The Boy Detective Fails, Demons in the Spring, and Hairstyles of the Damned. His short fiction has been published in One Story, McSweeney's, Swink, LIT, TriQuarterly, Other Voices, Gulf Coast, and broadcast on NPR. His nonfiction has appeared in the New York Times and Chicago Magazine. His stage plays have been produced in Chicago, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Charville, France. He is an associate professor in the Fiction Writing Department at Columbia College Chicago.

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Read an Excerpt


a novel

Akashic Books

Copyright © 2012 Joe Meno
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61775-075-5

Chapter One


But then there is the absolute bullshit of it! The amazing gall of some people! Who does he even think he is? Odile Neff, art-school dropout, age twenty-three, rides her green bicycle along the snowy streets of the city that evening at five p.m., arguing with herself. She is wearing one gray sock and one black sock and her faint-pink underwear, hidden beneath her long gray skirt, is dirty. It is January 1999, one year before the world as everyone knows it is about to end. Communism, like God, is already dead.

Having just finished an eight-hour shift conducting telephone surveys for an international research company—How many members in your family? What sort of hair spray do you use? How often do you use your hair spray? Have you noticed any dermatological irritations, including but not limited to eczema, carbuncles, warts, or various skin cancers, in connection with the frequent use of your hair spray? Has your hair spray ever interfered with the quality of your life?—she is now riding home and swearing to herself about something she is having a difficult time understanding, and about the person who has become the cause of all her grief. Her green hood is up, completely covering her small white ears, green scarf bound around her chin, the hem of her gray skirt blowing as she pedals along. It's only the second week of January but the winter has already become a verifiable pain in the neck. She wears her pink mittens which have become unknotted, the pale pink penumbras of her fingernails peeking out. And with these mittens she holds the cold plastic of the bicycle's handles, cursing to herself again and again.

"Asshole!" she shouts out loud. "why won't you talk to me? why not just talk to me and be honest about everything?"

She never thought she would be so stupid, and yet, here she is. Her fancy pearlescent shoes, bought for twelve bucks at the thrift store, keep slipping off the pedals, making her even more frustrated. The gray sky, the waxy unending weather, the caliginous buildings rising up in humorless planes of speckled silver glass, all of it makes her feel so small, so tiny. The snow continues its liberated march in considerable flakes, falling all around in achromatic sheets of bleary chalk. Also, there is his gray sock, Paul's gray sock, sitting in the left pocket of her parka, which she has been carrying around for the last few days.

Why am I so stupid? she asks herself again. Why do I keep wanting to be with him?

Her face is an abject expression of disgust, mouth twisted to the side in a frown, narrow eyebrows raised.

Is it just because I'm not supposed to? Is it just because he's married? Is it just because I thought I had the world by the balls and I always end up making a mess of everything?

Her green bicycle, unable to answer, only vibrates with rage.


Excerpted from OFFICE GIRL by JOE MENO Copyright © 2012 by Joe Meno . Excerpted by permission of Akashic Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 8, 2012

    one of the oddest (good way) love stories I've ever read

    This has to be one of the oddest love stories I've ever read, but I had a blast reading it. Frankly, I think it is the best thing Meno has done since "Hairstyles of the Damned." It has some of the raw emotive power that Hairstyles does, but the writing is considerably more sophisticated. I found it interesting that Meno managed to balance those two things well enough to keep both. The format and the characters are interesting as well. I read a review of this book that didn't care for the characters so much, but I found that to be some of the magic. I mean, the characters are freaks but Meno manages to bring me into what they are feeling. Odd as they are, what they feel is far from strange. In short, I really dug this book and recommend it highly.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2013

    Very strangely original

    This book is like no other love story it takes you to a world of adventures and excitment were the characters are original they make you think that there is so much out there to live for.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 17, 2013

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Quirky and sweet  yes, youth in

    I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Quirky and sweet  yes, youth in their 20's.  very on target.  

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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