|The Beautiful Bureaucrat
"The person who interviewed her had no face."
In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as "The Database." After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings. The office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality. The drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.
As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond. Both chilling and poignant, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a novel of rare restraint and imagination. With it, Helen Phillips enters the company of Murakami, Bender, and Atwood as she twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder-luminous and new.
What the heck just happened? Should I care? I loved the ride. This story was like a waking dream, an insomniac walking the streets so tired they start to see things that shift, liquify, change into strange. I would have classified this book as magical realism but Goodreads doesn't... what's up with that? Not that Goodreads is the say all for genre classification. Sentences and thoughts such as; "what's it like to eat three hours? She was feeling impish. How do they taste? Like cotton candy or grass or concrete?". If that speaks to you... you'll probably very much enjoy this book. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't hard to get through - some magical realism is SO far out there it's hard to keep interest or balance. This isn't that.
Phillips gives us a little lighthearted approach to a dark plot, with characters named, "Trishiffany" and "The Person with Bad Breath". Josephine and Joseph need to find new jobs in this hard hitting economy (the feel is almost apocalyptic or maybe on that verge with no natural disaster). The two both find "bureaucratic" jobs and find places to sleep by renting from temporary furnished apartments (in other words, smelly and filled with someone else's crap). Josephine has the strangest mundane job of inputting numbers into a document on the computer. She is told not to speak of the job with anyone, especially at home ("Fight Club" anyone?!).
The Author has a unique way to capture things, which reminded me a little of Miranda July's book "The First Bad Man". Not in plot, but in tone? uniqueness?, she definitely goes a little outside of the box. For example, the main character walks into the girls bathroom and sits on the toilet to pee, another woman walks in and takes the stall next to her. Phillips describes this moment, "an uneasy music, the music of two women peeing side by side..." I mean yes, how perfect is that? You can't deny being in that position and hearing that loud echo of pee hitting the water in the toilet and not be a little self conscious. This is why she reminded me so much of Miranda July, who handled situations similarly in her book. Taking those moments in life you don't want to share with anyone (inner thoughts) and writing them on the written page without discretion. I love that. I'll take more of that please.
I can't end this review without mentioning the word play. Josephine has a very strange quirk that grows more prevalent as time passes in the story... she plays with words quite a bit. Sometimes it's anagrams, other times it's something else... but I found it very amusing to read. Speaking of amusing, this is pretty much how I viewed ALL the quirks to the book... amusing. However, there is a very dark theme and purpose to the story that shouldn't be overlooked. I would recommend anyone who flirts with magical realism, likes characters who speak anything that comes to mind and has a very open mind... this one would definitely be for you.
P.S. - I received this e-book free from Netgalley/Publisher.
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