Office Girl

Office Girl

4.2 4
by Joe Meno, Cody Hudson

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Joe Meno is back with fantastic new novel about two young people and a visionary, doomed art movement.

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Joe Meno is back with fantastic new novel about two young people and a visionary, doomed art movement.

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 talented Chicago-based Meno has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999...When things Get Weird as things do when we're young, Meno is refreshingly honest in portraying lowest lows and not just the innocent highs. A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending."
--Kirkus Reviews

"Along with PBRs, flannels, and thick-framed glasses, this Millennial Franny and Zooey is an instant hipster staple. Plot notes: It's 1999 and Odile and Jack are partying like it was...well, you know. Meno's alternative titles help give the gist: Bohemians or Young People on Bicycles Doing Troubling Things. Cross-media: Drawings and Polaroids provide a playful, quirky element."
--Marie Claire

"Odile and Jack are...two characters in search of authentic emotion...their pas de deux is...dynamic. Meno's plain style seems appropriate for these characters and their occasions, and the low-key drawings and amateur photographs that punctuate the narrative lend a home-video feel to this story of slacker bohemia, the temp jobs, odd jobs and hand jobs."
--Chicago Tribune

"Meno's book is an honest look at the isolation of being a creative person in your twenties living in a city...Cody Hudson's hand-drawn illustrations, which relate to the text only laterally, add a charm akin to the small doodles that break up long New Yorker articles. The photos by Todd Baxter add a third level to the package, helping to make Meno's book feel more like an artwork."
--The Daily Beast, "3 Must-Read Offbeat Novels"

"A beguiling and slyly disquieting storyteller, Meno forges surprising connections between deep emotion and edgy absurdity, self-conscious hipness and timeless metaphysics. In this geeky-elegant novel, Meno transforms wintery Chicago into a wondrous crystallization of countless dreams and tragedies, while telling the stories of two derailed young artists, two wounded souls, in cinematic vignettes that range from lushly atmospheric visions to crack-shot volleys of poignant and funny dialogue. With bicycles in the snow emblematic of both precariousness and determination, Meno's charming, melancholy, frank and droll love story wrapped around an art manifesto both celebrates those who question and protest the established order and contemplates the dilemmas that make family, creativity, ambition and love perpetually confounding and essential."
--Kansas City Star

"A wispy, bittersweet (emphasis on the bitter, not the sweet) romance, Office Girl is the story of Odile and Jack, a pair of alienated twentysomething bohemians whose artistic ambitions are being worn away by one soul-killing call-center job after another in Chicago."
--Chicago Sun-Times

"Office Girl is a bittersweet little love story framed by Bill Clinton's 1999 impeachment trial and the turn of the millennium...By letting his characters be emotionally vulnerable, even shallow or trite—which is to say...real--Meno supplies an off-kilter, slightly inappropriate answer to the Hollywood rom-com. Meno is a deft writer. The dialogue in Office Girl is often funny, the pacing quirky, and some of its quick, affecting similes remind me of Lorrie Moore."
--Chicago Reader

"Meno's books have become increasingly liminal and idiosyncratic. In this latest, it feels as if Meno has written the book he's been wanting to write for years, combining all of those classic elements of his previous work: the stop-and-start of youthful inertia, the painful purity of romance, the way childhood informs (i.e. wrecks) us as adults and a direct prose cut into vignettes and montage. He also works with longtime collaborators photographer Todd Baxter and painter Cody Hudson...Gorgeously packaged, it's like a Meno box set 15 years in the making."
--Time Out Chicago

"It might be a standard boy-meets-girl tale, if not for the fact that the boy likes to record the sounds of gloves abandoned in snowdrifts, while the girl has a penchant for filling elevators with silver balloons. It's 1999. Odile has left grad school while Jack's wife has recently left him; after both stumble into jobs at the same telemarketing firm, they meet, and it isn't long before he is supporting her attempt to create a whimsical, anti-establishment art movement."
--Time Out New York

"Office Girl might be Joe Meno's breakthrough novel. Set in 1999, Office Girl tells the story of a pair of young, intelligent drifters who decide to start their own art movement. It's a stripped-down experience of a novel which means Meno's crystalline prose has a chance to shine."
--The Stranger

"Office Girl is a relatively simple love story: You know most of the beats and understand from the beginning how the story needs to end; the pleasure comes from the way Meno hits those beats, how he manages his characters and moments. And some of those moments are really excellent: Jack and Odile's drift toward a first kiss, for instance, or their lovers' conspiracy, mirrored in Cody Hudson's naive drawings. And the heavier ideas that Meno stuffs into the corners around his self-consciously slight characters--like an ongoing struggle with sound and music that's part of the last-act climax--give the book more weight."
--Philadelphia City Paper

"A lithe, winking take on the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl cliche, Meno's newest novel is like Perks of Being a Wallflower for the 20-something set--and just like that iconic novel of creatives-in-crisis, this one is quirky, clever, and full of bitten tongues and youthful dreaming. Add bicycles, fingerless gloves, and one of the most twee art projects we could have ever imagined, and you've got a charming and unpretentious hipster love story destined to be the next cult classic."

"Office Girl shelves neatly into the anti-establishment, punk-rock canon Meno created with books like his breakthrough, Hairstyles of the Damned."
--Onion A.V. Club

"Mr. Meno approaches his title character's potentially depressing combination of disadvantageous circumstances and poor choices with sufficient aesthetic distance to find levity amid the angst. And while Office Girl is a quick and easy read, it is not insubstantial."
--New York Journal of Books

"While Office Girl features illustrations by artist Cody Hudson and photographs by Todd Baxter, its real substance lies in the story itself. Set in Chicago right before the new millennium, Meno, a Chicagoan, explores the start of an art movement through the eyes of two twenty-something dreamers in this novel."
--Michigan Avenue Magazine

"Joe Meno's newest novel Office Girl, isn't some end-of-the-Millennium gloomy read. Rather it's an unconventional call to action encapsulating the lives of two 'creative souls' set adrift in urban Chicago at the end of the twentieth century...Don't be fooled by its lack of chapters and intermittent doodles, there are sections that you will likely have to reread before you can truly grasp Jack and Odile's motivations. At times it can even be a bit disheartening, but that is actually what makes Office Girl brilliant. Whether you are 13 or 30, it's the perfect book to pick up when that nagging feeling of unrest captures you over your current condition."
--Revel Rouse Magazine

"I was completely charmed by its boy-meets-quirky girl romance. Office Girl is unabashedly earnest. It's so sweet and sincere...The most important detail is the year: 1999, a moment of uncertainty in the world and the lives of the novel's couple...Today, when it seems that most media is hellbent on constantly reflecting on and reinventing our childhood and adolescence, it's refreshing to read a novel that can be nostalgic without being ironic."

"Office Girl is packed with whimsy and soft terror. It's emotionally affective and its scenes are sometimes too familiar, as if you have once been here yourself, in this same office, in that same bedroom, on that same street. It's the tale of a weeklong romance that cuts to the heart. At times you remember it like it was your own. Both Jack and Odile suffer from their own inability to translate their thoughts into words, and they possess a certain innocent, curious sexuality. There's nothing graphic here, but the feelings are laid bare. And, as if in a dream, you can watch those feelings winding themselves through Jack and Odile's increasingly complex layers of consciousness...It's a specific book about general rite of passage; an investigation of that strange, dream-like transition between youth and adulthood, where everything seems possible and terrifying and wonderful all at once. Meno does good here."

"Joe Meno's Office Girl draws the awkward love story of two twenty-somethings with grace and empathy in this exceptional novel."
--Largehearted Boy

"Wistful, heartbreaking, and melancholy, a sneakily tight manuscript that gets better and better the farther you read."
--Chicago Center for Literature and Photography

"With a format reminiscent of J.D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey, Office Girl lets the reader develop his own ideas about each of the two characters...There is a spark. There is momentum."
--The Wichita Eagle

"The book is a love story but one with a different twist on your typical boy-meets-girl, then boy-loses-girl story...Office Girl by Joe Meno has an indie feel...Meno captures perfectly the fleeting thoughts of fancy of young people...Set in the whimsical, uncertain time of young adult life when you don't know what you are doing yet...What happens next is just like love...unpredictable. Joe Meno has done a remarkable job of capturing an age old story, in a brand new way. This is a bright read."
--California Literary Review

"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."

"Fresh and sharply observed, Office Girl is a love story on bicycles, capturing the beauty of individual moments and the magic hidden in everyday objects and people. Joe Meno will make you stop and notice the world. And he will make you wonder."
--Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief

"I'm terrible, I bail on most books. Recent ones that delighted me the whole way through were...Office Girl by Joe Meno."
--Maria Semple, author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette, in the New York Times Book Review's "By the Book" feature

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

Akashic Books
Publication date:
Sales rank:
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.

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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