a new novel by joe meno
an amazon.com best book of the month, july 2012
a kirkus reviews best book of 2012
a daily candy best book of 2012
a believer reader poll best book of 2012
a chicago reader best book of 2013
a publishers weekly pick of the week:
In Joe Meno’s new novel, set in the last year of the 20th century, art school dropout Odile Neff and amateur sound artist Jack Blevins work deadening office jobs; gush about indie rock, French film, and obscure comic book artists; and gradually start a relationship that doubles as an art movement. They are, in other words, the 20-something doyens of pop culture and their tale of promiscuous roommates, on-again/off-again exes, and awkward sex is punctuated on the page by cute little doodles, black and white photographs (of, say, a topless woman in a Stormtrooper mask), and monologues that could easily pass for Belle & Sebastian lyrics (“It doesn’t pay to be a dreamer because all they really want you to do is answer the phone”).
new york times book review:
An off-kilter romance doubles as an art movement in Joe Meno’s novel. The novel reads as a parody of art-school types…and as a tribute to their devil-may-care spirit. Meno impressively captures post-adolescent female angst and insecurity. Fresh and funny, the images also encapsulate the mortification, confusion and excitement that define so many 20-something existences.
maria semple, new york times book review:
Delighted me all the way through.
wall street journal:
Wonderful storytelling panache…Odile is a brash, moody, likable young woman navigating the obstacles of caddish boyfriends and lousy jobs, embarking on the sort of sentimental journey that literary heroines have been making since Fanny Burney’s “Evelina” in the 1770s. Tenderhearted Jack is the awkward, quiet sort that the women in Jane Austen’s novels overlook until book’s end. He is obsessed with tape-recording Chicago’s ambient noises so that he can simulate the city in the safety of his bedroom, “a single town he has invented made of nothing but sound.” Odile and Jack meet while working in drab night jobs at a Muzak-supply company. The two quickly connect, and Mr. Meno excels at capturing the way that budding love can make two people feel brave and freshly alive to their surroundings…the story of the relationship has a sweet simplicity.
Cultural cred: 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 alternate titles help give the gist: Bohemians or Young People on Bicycles Doing Troubling Things. Cross-media: Drawings and Polaroids provide a playful, quirky element.
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.
Meno’s book is an honest look at the isolation of being a creative person in your 20s 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.
kansas city star:
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. A beguiling and slyly disquieting storyteller, he forges surprising connections between deep emotion and edgy absurdity, self-conscious hipness and timeless metaphysics. 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.
chicago sun times:
A wispy, bittersweet romance.
Office Girl relates the brief romance of 20-somethings Odile and Jack, who both work for the phone bank at Muzak Situations, ride their bicycles through Chicago in the snow, and bumble their way through love, work and their creative activities. Both have the itch to do something artistic. It’s easy for me to see this story as a movie, perhaps one by Francois Truffaut (who gets a namecheck in the book), if we can bundle everyone and their bicycles into the time machine.
Office Girl paints a picture of 20-somethings in search of greatness. In committing their random acts of art, the two come to learn quite a bit about themselves, even if it’s not what they wanted to know. And maybe they’re able to jump their individual ruts, even if the jump lands them in a place they hadn’t expected.
booklist (starred review):
Meno has constructed a snow-flake delicate inquiry into alienation and longing. Illustrated with drawings and photographs and shaped by tender empathy, buoyant imagination, and bittersweet wit, this wistful, provocative, off-kilter love story affirms the bonds forged by art and story.
The talented Chicago-based Meno has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999…A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending.
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. Flashing back to a childhood assault, Meno describes Odile’s bag lying on the ground, “unfamiliar as an amputated limb.” A passing train “sounds like a kid whose teeth are all being pulled out at the same time.” The text is complemented, charmingly, by Cody Hudson’s illustrations and Todd Baxter’s photos.
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.
the stranger, seattle:
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.
timeout new york:
Office Girl 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.
philadelphia city paper:
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 weight.
A lithe, winking take on the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl cliché, 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.
onion a.v. club:
…Shelves neatly into the anti-establishment, punk-rock canon Meno created with books like his breakthrough, Hairstyles Of The Damned.
new york journal of books:
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.
michigan avenue magazine:
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.
revel rouse 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.
I was completely charmed by its boy-meets-quirky-girl romance. Office Girl is unabashedly earnest. It’s so sweet and sincere. Tthe 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.
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 these feelings winding themselves through Jack and Odile’s increasingly complex layers of consciousness.