California Literary Review

Book Review: Office Girl by Jay Meno

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October 9th, 2012 at 1:28 pm

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Book jacket: Office Girl by Jay Meno
Office Girl
by Jay Meno
Akashic Books, 224 pp.
CLR Rating: ★★★½☆

Cool… hip…..artful…love…story…

Odille: Quintessential office girl temp … rebel art school dropout for the remaining hours of the day.

Jack: Life-long slacker…sound recording artist extraordinaire.

Chicago is the city, 1999 is the year. This book is a love story but one with a different twist on your typical boy-meets-girl, then boy-loses-girl story. Somehow, the book covers that ground but remains refreshingly breezy and simple. Perhaps, because it’s a love story on bicycles.

Office Girl by Joe Meno has an “indie” feel. And by indie I mean, “unique,” “quirky,” “environmentally conscious,” “socially aware,” “artistically appreciative,” and “transportationally green” (the characters ride bicycles constantly). It’s very composition and appearance is different than most novels. The writing is small, sparse and interspersed with notable black–and-white illustrations by renowned artist Cody Hudson and photos by Todd Baxter.

And while the lack of development in the characters would ordinarily make such work a yawn, in this case, the more minimal, sparse presentation undergirds the storyline and the characters themselves. How better to show the superficial short time thinking of the protagonist Odille than by creating prose that mimics that?

Meno captures perfectly the fleeting thoughts and fancy of young people caught in between their childhood and their entre into the world of a full-fledged, fully formed adult. This light and airy work is a quick read; set in the whimsical, uncertain time of young adult life when you don’t know what you are doing yet and when what you are doing isn’t going to make you any money; an impulsive time in the bubble of young adult “twenty-somethings.”

Odille is an unpretentious, somewhat sexually promiscuous, unassuming 23- year old. A dejected art student, (she dropped out after a professor denigrated her work) she is in a dead-end and meaningless job with no clear path to a better future. And she is also looking for love in all the wrong places (married men), and dispensing hand jobs half-hazardly to what can best be described as mere male acquaintances/co-workers.

He looks down and then she looks down and she rolls her eyes a little.

What? He asks.

What are you doing? She asks.

Nothing, I just thought…you know…

Odille sighs a little. I’ll give you a hand job but that’s it.

Pete silently weighs his options and then agrees.

Odille sighs again and does not know why she goes through with it. But she does.

Enter Jack, a new telemarketer/co-worker – equally at odds with his own meandering existence, searching for some meaning in the middle of the city.

Watching him ride though the early morning traffic. It’s as if this young man had not so long ago entered an age of dreaminess and confusion and the features of his face only recently rearranged themselves to match. What is he doing with himself? Where is he headed in life? When, if ever is he going to do something great? Is this, his average face, his lack of ambition, the reason Elise is going to Germany? He checks his calculator watch and sees he’s going to be late again.

And it is at this moment, when neither Odille nor Jack is particularly focused or capable of greatness, that the two collide. Together, these two wandering persons are spectacular. Each artistic in their own way, misunderstood and taken for granted by the people who know them, together they accept each other just as they are, forging a fast and furious friendship that includes vandalism, subversion, laughter and artful rebellion. They start their own art movement specifically to contradict, or defy rather, modern art culture; the talking heads who blather on about pedestrian artistic work and fail to nurture or encourage the distinct and different in the many real artists who want to be acknowledged. (Odille has still not gotten over a devastating snub from a pompous art professor at school.) They forge a bond in their rebellion. And without ever actually using the L word, they quickly develop a strong attachment that could probably last — if only they weren’t so young and at such transitory places in their lives. Even so, the L word permeates. It is effervescent, changing the way everything is seen by both of them.

Everything about the apartment feels exciting, new, different, even the way the light through the windows is working. He has got it bad for this girl. Oh man. And even though she is two years younger and a little crazy, she is so unafraid of everything. It practically kills him. And as he’s dragging his bicycle down the steps and out into the snowy street on this way to work that afternoon, he sees that on a parking sign, right in front of his building, someone has written

HELLO JACK

With a bright silver paint marker, and later, riding to work, he spots another handwritten note on the side of mailbox:

HI JACK

Then another on the façade of an abandoned storefront on Milwaukee Avenue:

HELLO JACK

Everywhere she left him these small notes and so begins the best four days of his life.

And so the “love” reaches new and higher peaks for the period of time that their young love ferments. And then like most love, but young love in particular, it falters. Jack ends up losing his young love Odille to her search for herself. She is ready to move to a different city in hopes of finding a real job and that means she is ready to move on from him.

I just don’t know why you’re moving. Actually, I think it’s pretty dumb.

I told you why. If I don’t do it now, I never will. I’ll just be some office drone ten years from now, wishing I had done something interesting at least once in my life.

What happens next is just like love… unpredictable. Jay Meno has done a remarkable job of capturing an age old story, in a brand new way. This is a bright read.

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