Tuesday, December 4, 2012
That's the basic framework of Joe Meno's slim, sad new novel Office Girl. But Joe Meno's slim, sad new novel is awesome; it's one of my favorites of the year, in fact. It's a book that resonated with me — it gave me that indescribable "good book chill" feeling when I finished. And I haven't been able to shake it.
The idea here is that Odile wants to start her own art movement, and recruits Jack to help her. Odile is against "everything popular. Anything that makes art into a commodity. Or people into commodities. Or anything that's supposed to be a commodity." So she wants to make art that is surprising, because "people in this city...nothing surprises them anymore. When you live here, there's just too much going on around you, so you don't see any of it. It's hard to get people's attention."
So, they do things like ride an elevator in a downtown building wearing ski masks and holding a giant bouquet of silver balloons. Or wearing sheets with eye holes (as ghosts) on a city bus. They just want to create art that's "a moment" — that someone might remember. Jack is also working on an art project — he records sound of anything he thinks is interesting or beautiful while riding his bike around the city — a girl crying at a bus stop, or steam from a sewer, or total silence. It's similar to the guy from American Beauty, who records mundane things he finds beautiful. Jack's goal is to create a city of sounds — and when he shows Odile, she absolutely loves it.
But the idea of the art is secondary to the notion that these two people are just trying to find their ways in the world, and see in each other kindred spirits and journey-mates. They spend a lot of time riding their bicycles around the city at night, through the snow, confiding in each other, and telling each other secrets they've never told anyone else. And they try to decide what the future might hold — to move forward or to keep spinning their wheels.
Again, I loved this book. It's 295 pages, but really much shorter (because of page breaks, and some cool art work and photos included in the pages, as well) — I read it in two sittings. No, this novel doesn't really break any new ground in terms of theme or plot, and yes, it could be argued that it feels a bit slight. But to me, neither of those mattered. These characters and the setting (dark, brooding Chicago — the streets, the buildings, the cold, snowy nights) got their claws into me, and haven't yet let go. Highly, highly recommended — especially if you love Chicago, especially if you were in your early 20s in the late 90s, and especially if you've ever felt a bit adrift. Five stars.
Posted by Greg Zimmerman at 12:06 PM