The Beautiful Bureaucrat

It's every Millennial's nightmare: newly married, no employment available at home, you move to the city and live in meagerly furnished sublets, repeatedly applying for entry-level admin jobs. Such is the fate of Josephine and Joseph in Helen Phillips's first novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat. Sitting across the desk from a "faceless" interviewer whose "skin bore the same grayish tint as the wall behind... [and] the genderless gray suit," Josephine begins a vaguely defined data-entry job at a massive building labeled with an A superimposed over a Z. When Joseph also finds a low-level clerical job, they convince themselves that they can get by with candle-lit take-out dinners and young lovers' optimism. They toast their good fortune with chipped coffee mugs: "To bureaucrats with boring office jobs." Then matters devolve.

Precisely and concisely, Phillips (And Yet They Were Happy) chronicles the mind-numbing drudgery of Josephine's daily processing of files: "Her forearms ached, her jaw was permanently clenched, her eyes felt dusty. Yet she did what she had to do." She interacts only with a nameless superior she calls "The Person with Bad Breath" and ditsy employee Trishiffany (parents couldn't decide between Trisha or Tiffany) from the Department of Processing Errors who, ominously, knows everything about Josephine's personal life. An urban thriller mash-up of Kafka and the SyFy channel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a frightening look at paranoia and dehumanizing work. Thankfully, Phillips tempers this bleakness with the youthful confidence of Joseph and Josephine, who still find an occasional "pocket of cheerfulness... [and] newfound gratitude." All is not yet lost. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Powered by: Xtenit