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Office Girl [Hardcover]

Joe Meno
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: Light but not fluffy, spare but not small, this novel from the Chicago-based playwright and novelist is a love letter to youth, art, and, well, love. It is 1999, and 23-year-old Odile (think the actress from Amélie or The Entertainer, except she’s American; ever self-aware, Meno concludes the book with a note expecting a movie version) and Jack, a 25-year-old semi-slacker, meet through their excruciatingly dull cubicle jobs and decide to start their own unboring art movement. Along the way, they talk, ride bicycles, and do graffiti. But the plot here is not the thing. Meno’s style is charmingly simple: He writes in short chapters mercifully light on irony and peppered with black-and-white illustrations and photographs that stop just this side of cute, raising this tale of frustrated Gen-Xers way above the clichéd boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl story of any era. --Sara Nelson

Review

"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."
--Flavorwire

"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."
--Grantland

"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."
--Anobium

"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."
--Razorcake

"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."
--DailyCandy

"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

About the Author

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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