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The Beautiful Bureaucrat

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A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this inventive and compulsively page-turning first novel 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 A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this inventive and compulsively page-turning first novel 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.


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A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this inventive and compulsively page-turning first novel 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 A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe in this inventive and compulsively page-turning first novel 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.

30 review for The Beautiful Bureaucrat

  1. 4 out of 5

    karen

    to pull off a book like this successfully, it needs to either be very strong in concept or very strong in character, and i don't think this book did either particularly well. it's not that you can't hang a book on a series of striking images, but you can't do that and also make me like it. as far as the concept goes; i've read variations of this theme in many different works from kafka and orwell and melville in the "work is soul-killing and bureaucracy surreal" aspect to jonathan carroll in thi to pull off a book like this successfully, it needs to either be very strong in concept or very strong in character, and i don't think this book did either particularly well. it's not that you can't hang a book on a series of striking images, but you can't do that and also make me like it. as far as the concept goes; i've read variations of this theme in many different works from kafka and orwell and melville in the "work is soul-killing and bureaucracy surreal" aspect to jonathan carroll in this book's big reveal. if i hadn't encountered it before, maybe my mind would have been more blown, but one does not listen to leonard cohen and then get super-impressed by ryan adams. and the characters - i don't need to like the characters, but i need them to have character. this was too slippery. joseph has no defining characteristics to speak of, which makes the love story element between joseph and josephine hard to care about, even if you aren't already annoyed with their matchy names. i was enjoying the wordplay element of this book, because i am someone whose brain naturally anagrams words like i'm constantly playing a solo round of boggle. but THEN i got irritated when it became clear that the only reason it existed at all in the book was to pull of this clunky little fizzle of a zinger that made me wince. How had she never noticed? how indeed, schindler?? this review is much crankier than i'd intended going into it. i did not hate this book. i liked bunches of the writing while i was reading it, but flipping through it again now, months later, all i'm seeing is the stuff i didn't like. maybe because i'm older now, and so naturally more cranky, or maybe it is because i am myself now unemployed, and so am resentful of the workplace novel in general. who can say?? luckily for you, this got a starred review in kirkus, called out in huffpost's most anticipated books of summer, and it's one of the "big" books at BEA. so i am definitely the one who is wrong here. which is super. rupes. purse. reups. persu. usper. come to my blog!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Caroline

    ***NO SPOILERS*** How to define The Beautiful Bureaucrat? This might be the biggest problem with this slim book and slight tale: it doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it a thriller? A dystopian? A mystery? A combination of all three? Faintly echoing parts of 1984, The Beautiful Bureaucrat tells of office drone Josephine, who accepts a position entering data all day, every day. Then she realizes what the data mean. It seems that from here this story could morph into a heart-pumping dystopian thri ***NO SPOILERS*** How to define The Beautiful Bureaucrat? This might be the biggest problem with this slim book and slight tale: it doesn’t seem to know what it is. Is it a thriller? A dystopian? A mystery? A combination of all three? Faintly echoing parts of 1984, The Beautiful Bureaucrat tells of office drone Josephine, who accepts a position entering data all day, every day. Then she realizes what the data mean. It seems that from here this story could morph into a heart-pumping dystopian thriller, but unfortunately, though the premise is unique and interesting at times, The Beautiful Bureaucrat never soars. Perhaps The Beautiful Bureaucrat could be categorized as a thriller had Phillips fully realized her premise. Instead, after the big epiphany, the story limps along to its weak conclusion. It seems there was hesitation on her part to create full-fledged villains. There are sinister presences, and the story has a sense of foreboding throughout--there’s always that metaphorical question mark floating in the air--but whatever threat lurks in the background stays there. The Beautiful Bureaucrat stands out for its linear narrative and accessible, clean prose; this is one that could be read in a day. Though it isn’t deep, it has its moments:Only he had stood on street corners beside her and their piled detritus. Only their two minds in the entire universe contained this same specific set of images: a particular pattern of shadow on the ceiling above a bed, a particular loop of highway ramp circled just as a song about a circle began to play on the radio. Tens of thousands of conversations and jokes. Without him she was just a lonely brain hurtling through space, laughing quietly to itself.The world-building is slight to non-existent, but it’s there in exactly why the protagonist spends her days in front of a computer. Characters are few: just five--including Josephine and her husband (inexplicably named “Joseph”)--that are featured in any notable way. For unknown reasons, Phillips characterized three of these by one defining physical characteristic and one only. One character is recognized only by his perpetual halitosis (and if there’s symbolism here, it’s extremely hazy); another wears only brightly colored suits; another has neon orange hair. If the goal was to create a sense of the unreal, it was a miss; the lack of significant description is more of a distraction than anything, and an oddity. The story veers into nonsensical territory during sequences wherein the main character twists everyday words into anagrams (or close to it):The ceiling began to undulate.undue lateUlna duetLuau dentDual tuneDo la nuDuel auntLaud tuna nutA dune luteAt no point is it clear what Phillips’s aim is, but it’s frustrating to read what seem like delusory passages that have no bearing on the actual plot. Similarly strange is a hyper-focus on pomegranates. This screams symbolism--perhaps religious--but it isn’t integrated into the story well enough to be readily understood. It’s when events shift from any symbolism and out of Josephine’s peculiar mind that The Beautiful Bureaucrat is strongest. Back in the office, this tale has a purpose and a focused message and thus can move forward. The climax is accompanied by a small twist that unfortunately can be predicted well before the halfway point, but it’s still interesting to see how that twist plays out as the The Beautiful Bureaucrat reaches its denouement and all ends are tied up, however abstractly--and however neatly. NOTE: I received this book as an Advanced Reader Copy from LibraryThing in May 2015.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mackey

    Sometimes I pick up a book just because of the cover or the title and I know nothing about the book itself. My daughter works at the US State Dept. and the cover reminded me of her in an odd way. It is a short book, almost a novella, so I thought "why not?" Holy Smokes! I read the book in one sitting and thought "what the hell did I just read?" I took a breath and read it again and wept! My gosh! I haven't read a book like this since my university days! Most reviewers are labeling this little ta Sometimes I pick up a book just because of the cover or the title and I know nothing about the book itself. My daughter works at the US State Dept. and the cover reminded me of her in an odd way. It is a short book, almost a novella, so I thought "why not?" Holy Smokes! I read the book in one sitting and thought "what the hell did I just read?" I took a breath and read it again and wept! My gosh! I haven't read a book like this since my university days! Most reviewers are labeling this little tale "dystopian" but once you read it thoroughly you understand it for what it truly is: a beautiful, haunting piece of extential realism. It simply took my breath away. Kafka, Satre, Camus....it all came back to me through Phillips' writing. And I have to say that her writing is brilliant. For the majority of the book I truly thought I was reading a quick paced mystery/thriller! The characters are so incredible, so detailed, humorous - human. It isn't until the final portion that you begin to suspect there is more. Then you question. Everything. And you don't stop. It will leave you in wonder, in joy, in sadness, and with questions. If you are a fan of extential writing or perhaps even dystopian fiction then I highly recommend this book. If you are not, this will not be the book for you. I promise. I've read the reviews.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

    "The cruel noise of keys, shoving, twisting, was she at the wrong door in the wrong building on the wrong street in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong city in the wrong state in the wrong country on the wrong planet." Having finished this book, I can confidently tell you that I cannot enlighten you as to the answers of any of those questions. But, for approximately 174 of 177 pages, I had a pretty great time wondering and turned pages at the rapid pace of the quoted passage above. However, as I "The cruel noise of keys, shoving, twisting, was she at the wrong door in the wrong building on the wrong street in the wrong neighborhood in the wrong city in the wrong state in the wrong country on the wrong planet." Having finished this book, I can confidently tell you that I cannot enlighten you as to the answers of any of those questions. But, for approximately 174 of 177 pages, I had a pretty great time wondering and turned pages at the rapid pace of the quoted passage above. However, as I reached the very end: the taunting sound of pages, flipping, tearing*, was I at the right ending of the right plot in the right story with the right characters in the right setting in the right novel in the right cover in the right jacket. I'm being facetious, of course, but what I mean to say is that as I finished the book, I was no longer entirely certain of what I was/had been reading, and I'm still not quite sure if I mean that in a good way or a bad way. This book balances in a narrow strip of dry grass between a factory of fabulism and an alleyway of ash can realism,** and maintains an engaging balance pretty well throughout, but did not quite stick the landing for me in the very end. I suspect the novel's genre-bending/blending qualities and somewhat unresolved ending may frustrate some readers and possibly frustrated me, but I remain content that I read it, and there is much to recommend it. And you may enjoy the book if any of the following resonate with you: Having the worst data entry job ever Having the worst filing job ever And you wear a saggy cardigan, tights, and sensible shoes daily and also the office environment makes you break out Having the worst boss ever, who has perpetually foul breath and also possibly no face Having journeyed from something one might describe as a "hinterland" to try to stake your claim in something the hinterland folk might refer to as "the big city" Living in a neighborhood that may be an Actual Futuristic Dystopia or perhaps just a shitty part of ungentrified Brooklyn on a bad day Living in a succession of horrible sublet basement apartments that have other people's stuff in them and instead of getting better and better, just get horrible in different ways each time Suffering the fallout of some sort of major economic collapse that may be some unprecedented new degree of collapse we can only imagine or may just be the average level of collapse we are experiencing or have already experienced Eating spaghetti daily, with butter if you're lucky. The boiling spaghetti smell is the best possible smell you could ever hope to encounter in any of your horrible apartments. All these things are basically real things that are in this book. These are the ash can school/Bildungsroman aspects of the novel, which are the parts I enjoyed most and you may too. Now imagine, if you will, that layered atop this more traditional plot, you have some eerie, disorienting, subtle dissonance that is akin to that dreadful ringing hum emitted by bad fluorescent lighting. These are the little clues and suggestions the author interweaves throughout the book that constantly leave you guessing: Brooklyn or Dystopian Future? Boss With No Face or Boss With Indeterminate Features? Noise of Many Typewriters Clacking or Noise of Countless Cockroaches Scurrying? Warehouse or...???? Phillips does a great job of stringing the reader along, and I think she finally takes a position in the end...I think...but I still do not know. This book could have easily been a 4 if I'd felt a bit more at peace with the ending, but overall the read was satisfying and I was left feeling certain that Philips is a writer to watch. *No actual library books were torn or otherwise harmed in the reading of this novel or writing of this review **I can't take credit for this imagery; it's an allusion to a scene in the book

  5. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 I just finished this and am still not sure of what I read. A fever dream, a hallucination, possibly a nightmare, maybe all of them? All I know is that I started reading this and was hooked, wanted to find out what was going on. Josephine and Joseph move to the city from the hinterlands where they were unable to find jobs. At first in the city things do not seem much better, but than miracle of miracles they both find jobs. Josephine, hired by someone whose face she cannot clearly see, a face 3.5 I just finished this and am still not sure of what I read. A fever dream, a hallucination, possibly a nightmare, maybe all of them? All I know is that I started reading this and was hooked, wanted to find out what was going on. Josephine and Joseph move to the city from the hinterlands where they were unable to find jobs. At first in the city things do not seem much better, but than miracle of miracles they both find jobs. Josephine, hired by someone whose face she cannot clearly see, a face that seems like no face gets a job sitting at a desk inputting numbers into a Database. Boring pink walls, strict rules, anfew if any co-workers that she can see, though she eventually makes the acquaintance of one. Stacks of files daily, ennui sets in, the only saving grace her husband Joseph and the few surprises he provides. But than she begins questioning what she is inputting and from there, well that is the rest of the story. Wildly inventive, strange and inviting all at once, this is so different from what I usually read that I am still thinking about it. Novella length, more than a novel but it contains quite a bit in a small package. Am still shaking my head, though I have to admit this might not appeal to some like it did for me.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    I’m still not sure what prompted me to get this book. I’ve never read Kafka and I don’t ordinarily go in for magical realism. Besides, a book about a woman whose job is constantly entering numbers into a database (excuse me. ‘Database’) sounds too much like my own life to be called fantasy. Okay, Ursula Le Guin did gush over it and she has never let me down but still, what was I thinking? I don’t know, but I’m sure glad I did. I was hooked from the first paragraph: The person who interviewed her h I’m still not sure what prompted me to get this book. I’ve never read Kafka and I don’t ordinarily go in for magical realism. Besides, a book about a woman whose job is constantly entering numbers into a database (excuse me. ‘Database’) sounds too much like my own life to be called fantasy. Okay, Ursula Le Guin did gush over it and she has never let me down but still, what was I thinking? I don’t know, but I’m sure glad I did. I was hooked from the first paragraph: The person who interviewed her had no face. Under other circumstances- if the job market hadn't been so bleak for so long, if the summer hadn't been so glum and muggy - this might have discouraged Josephine from stepping through the door of the office in the first place. As things were, her initial thought was: ‘Oh, perfect, the interviewer's appearance probably deterred other applicants.’ If I were to compare this book to any other I’ve read it would have to be Jose Saramago’s ‘Blindness’ but even that isn’t a perfect match. While they share the use of allegorical themes and symbolism, The Beautiful Bureaucrat has a whimsical nature that inexplicably transcends it’s bleak and drab setting. Bottom line: I’m confident that this book will appeal to anyone who appreciates literary themes. It may even appeal to those who just like an occasional foray into the absurd. *Quotations are cited from an advanced reading copy and may not be the same as appears in the final published edition. The review book was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review. FYI: On a 5-point scale I assign stars based on my assessment of what the book needs in the way of improvements: • 5 Stars – Nothing at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. • 4 Stars – It could stand for a few tweaks here and there but it’s pretty good as it is. • 3 Stars – A solid C grade. Some serious rewriting would be needed in order for this book to be considered good or memorable. • 2 Stars – This book needs a lot of work. A good start would be to change the plot, the character development, the writing style and the ending. • 1 Star - The only thing that would improve this book is a good bonfire.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shannon

    After both her and her husband struggle to find work for far too long, Josephine is thrilled when she’s hired to work on “The Database”. In a windowless building that takes up several city blocks, she works in a small office, entering strangely coded numbers in an increasingly mind-numbing task. Over time, Josephine’s once supportive husband grows distant and work on The Database wears at her until she is desperate to discover its true purpose. In just 192 pages, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs in After both her and her husband struggle to find work for far too long, Josephine is thrilled when she’s hired to work on “The Database”. In a windowless building that takes up several city blocks, she works in a small office, entering strangely coded numbers in an increasingly mind-numbing task. Over time, Josephine’s once supportive husband grows distant and work on The Database wears at her until she is desperate to discover its true purpose. In just 192 pages, The Beautiful Bureaucrat packs in the tension of the best thrillers with a double dose of “WHAT IS GOING ON?” for good measure. And Helen Phillips uses every inch of those 192 pages to tell her story, forcing readers to puzzle out the narrative until the very last moment, while also filling them with fabulous wordplay. “On the wall above the children, there was a poster: BE SURE TO EAT THREE HOURS BEFORE DONATING BLOOD What’s it like to eat three hours? She was feeling impish. How do they taste? Like cotton candy or grass or concrete?” So many novels of this style wind up either frustratingly confusing or too neat, but Phillips finds a delicate balance with what she chooses to reveal in the end. Both a puzzle and a meditation on life, work, and choice, The Beautiful Bureaucrat is the kind of book you finish and immediately begin again—not because you have to, but you want to. More at rivercityreading.com

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dianne

    Dreamy (hallucinatory?), imaginative and completely bizarre. I loved this strange little book but I suspect from the low rating that I am in the minority here. This is one I may read again sometime just to savor Ms. Phillips' inventiveness and imagery.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Julianne (Outlandish Lit)

    Once I started reading this book, there was no way for me to stop. My reading experience was essentially this: an inability to move from my bed, an inability to stop reading hilarious lines to whoever was so lucky to be near me at the time, and, once I was alone, a lot of me giggling and/or gasping to myself. It was a great time. From how I've described this so far, it sounds like I was reading a comedic novel. But this was easily one of the creepiest books I've ever read. The surreal take on a b Once I started reading this book, there was no way for me to stop. My reading experience was essentially this: an inability to move from my bed, an inability to stop reading hilarious lines to whoever was so lucky to be near me at the time, and, once I was alone, a lot of me giggling and/or gasping to myself. It was a great time. From how I've described this so far, it sounds like I was reading a comedic novel. But this was easily one of the creepiest books I've ever read. The surreal take on a bureaucratic office includes a man with no face, grimy hand prints all over a claustrophobic office wall, doppelgangers, and strange strings of words leaking into the main character's mind. The thing is, Phillips' writing is just so clever. Every dose of creepy is coupled with a bit of "spot on." I couldn't help but laugh at Josephine's darkly comic thoughts about work, life, and relationships throughout. "Josephine had yet to receive any instructions about what name or title she ought to use for her boss; her failure to ask now meant that she never would." If you like a strange, thrilling read that feels like a puzzle and plays with language, this is the book for you. I was horrified, I was uncomfortable, and I was delighted. You may not have ANY idea what's going on most of the time as the tension continues to mount, but the pay off at the end is clean and well thought out. Helen Phillips, be my best friend. Full review: http://outlandishlit.blogspot.com/201...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lorrea - WhatChaReadin'?

    Josephine Jones has just move to the big city and is in need of a job. She finds one where her job is to input information into a database. She will sit in an office with smudged pink walls, in a building with no windows. Her only job is to enter the information and don't ask questions. But curiosity is a part of human nature. Will she be able to continue the job when she discovers what it is she is really doing? Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt for the opportunity to read and review this bo Josephine Jones has just move to the big city and is in need of a job. She finds one where her job is to input information into a database. She will sit in an office with smudged pink walls, in a building with no windows. Her only job is to enter the information and don't ask questions. But curiosity is a part of human nature. Will she be able to continue the job when she discovers what it is she is really doing? Thank you to NetGalley and Henry Holt for the opportunity to read and review this book. Josephine and Joseph Jones have left the hinterland(the place they call home) for the big city. I'm not sure what city they are in or what kind of people Josephine and Joseph are. Sometimes Josephine calls Joseph by a number 041-74-3400. They jump around their new city from sublet to sublet, each with one disgusting trait or another. Like black bubbling coming from the bathtub and gray sheets on the futon that were at some time in their life white. This was a short story that captivated my attention, but also had me confused. There didn't seem to be enough time to tell the background of the story or develop the characters enough to really get to know them. There wasn't a name to the city they were living in and Josephine constantly refers to her boss as "The Person with Bad Breath". Overall this book was pretty good and I would read more by this author.

  11. 4 out of 5

    David Katzman

    Having read two books in a row that were surrealist by female authors, I’ve decided to write a combined review comparing my reactions to them. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman and The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips. I will refer to them henceforth as YTCHABLM and TBB. When I began YTCHABLM, I thought it was going to be a contemporary version of Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and it initially threw me off as it evolved unexpectedly from real to surreal, but once Having read two books in a row that were surrealist by female authors, I’ve decided to write a combined review comparing my reactions to them. You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine by Alexandra Kleeman and The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips. I will refer to them henceforth as YTCHABLM and TBB. When I began YTCHABLM, I thought it was going to be a contemporary version of Generation X by Douglas Coupland, and it initially threw me off as it evolved unexpectedly from real to surreal, but once I got past that shift, I thoroughly enjoyed it. On the other hand, TBB was a short, tight book with a consistent style, but in total, I disliked it. It struck me as gimmicky and artificial in plot. A game for the author with little true purpose and no meaningful themes. If I was to try to capture these books in a nutshell, I would describe YTCHABLM as The Stranger for Millennials, while TBB was the movie Angel Heart starring Mickey Rourke rehashed from a female perspective. YTCHABLM has something else going for it: humor. It was strung throughout with amusing commentary and dialogue about relationships, television and commercialism, food, religion, and our physical bodies. The title of the book threw me off quite a bit. I expected some kind of satire of the modeling industry, but rather, Kleeman’s take on the body is more about how we are alienated from our physical bodies by culture. Especially women but men too. Through the agricultural/advertising/grocery chains of the world, through the cosmetics industry, through porn and mediated by the contemporary struggle to achieve intimacy in relationships. I did not expect the surreal turn of YTCHABLM…the first quarter of the book is a relatively realistic view of two female slacker roommates and the main character’s relationship with her arrogant slacker boyfriend. Clues begin to pop up in the story that this is going to take a turn away from realism, such as a repeated series of highly elaborate TV commercials that are much too long and intricate to be actual commercials. And too many of them in a series as well. They are almost more morality tales of the artificial food industry, metaphors expressing the means by which media manufactures desire for utterly worthless crap. At the same time, the main character begins to lose touch with her body, with communication and even with common sense. Her character evolves to become after a time, an empty vessel carrying forth only certain behaviors wrought in her by habit. This is where it dovetails for me with The Stranger. And as a side note, she calls her boyfriend C and her roommate B, which reminds me of The Trial by Kafka whose main character is Joseph K. YTCHABLM becomes a modern Existentialist drama/comedy with our character surrendering her identity and personal agency to live in a state of emptiness where nothing really seems to matter. TBB, on the other hand, seems to lack meaningful or profound themes. Which is unexpected, because YTCHABLM comes from a very contemporary moment, while TBB is vaguely more universal in setting (not placed so particularly in our time). Although a few sour notes like repeated mention of the brand “Coca-Cola” marred that. The title of TBB irritated me quite a bit. The plot was a gimmick, and so was the title. The main character gets hired into a job that one would assume is a corporate job in a faceless building in the city. It’s certainly never stated as being a “government” job. The main character is in a data entry/filing capacity but amazingly with her own office. Rather than being labeled a corporate drone, she suddenly calls herself a “bureaucrat,” which as I understand it is a term for a government employee with an implied conservative critique of government, the claim that “all that red tape” is a waste of money for the taxpayer. Also, too many laws get in the way of shit getting done. Yes, our taxes are somewhat complicated, but this is an exaggerated claim simply asserted by an ideology that wants to gut government for private enterprise. So the use of the term “bureaucrat” set up a very particular implication that didn’t sit well with me from the beginning. Then the “Beautiful” reference in the title seems to be about a secondary character? Who is like a slightly overweight Barbie doll? But…why name the book after this secondary character? There was really no reason. A title chosen for greatest draw at the bookstore, I suppose. The wordplay in TBB also was thrown in arbitrarily. Oh the husband and wife like to play on words together? I guess…unfortunately her husband had zero personality so that premise was ungrounded. Another gimmick technique to beef up the literary creds for this empty novel. The surreal aspects of YTCHABLM crept in gradually. I could perhaps quibble with that, but in the end, her approach worked for me. They grew out of the psychology of our culture. By contrast the surreal aspects of TBB hit early on. And they felt utterly contrived. They struck me as the author setting out to “write a surrealist novel” and coming up with a “clever twist” the readers “won’t see coming.” In the end, I saw no point to TBB. It was smoke and mirrors with no substance. On the other hand, YTCHABLM was, in a way, about smoke and mirrors. About the illusions our culture creates distorting our feelings and views about our bodies and our relationships. Kleeman won me over.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    Read 5/28/15 - 6/4/15 4 Stars - Highly Recommended, a great example of a small press author who maintains her style as she publishes with the big boys Pages: 177 Publisher: Henry Holt/Macmillian Releases: August 2015 I first read Helen Phillips back in 2011, when she released And Yet They Were Happy with Leapfrog Press, a collection of two-page long vignettes that told the story of a recently married couple as they attempt to build their home among all sorts of natural and supernatural disasters. I w Read 5/28/15 - 6/4/15 4 Stars - Highly Recommended, a great example of a small press author who maintains her style as she publishes with the big boys Pages: 177 Publisher: Henry Holt/Macmillian Releases: August 2015 I first read Helen Phillips back in 2011, when she released And Yet They Were Happy with Leapfrog Press, a collection of two-page long vignettes that told the story of a recently married couple as they attempt to build their home among all sorts of natural and supernatural disasters. I was quite taken with her surrealist approach to fiction at the time, so when I heard that Helen's The Beautiful Bureaucrat was picked up by a big presser, naturally I was thrilled for her. And upon cracking open the review copy, I saw that, not only had she maintained her refreshing approach to fiction, but her style, entirely more narrative and linear, had also become wonderfully more enigmatic and elusive. Here we are introduced to a (different) young married couple who are fighting the 'unemployment woes' - bouncing from skanky sublet apartment to even more skanky sublet apartment as they struggle to grow roots in a new, unnamed city. Joseph and Josephine (how incredibly adorable and simultaneously boring is it that they have matching names?) are your typical, run-of-the-mill, cutesy couple. They make the best of the worst situations. They play anagram games with language to keep themselves occupied. It's not long before Josephine manages to land a job at a strange office complex inputting strings of numbers into a Database in a dreary, windowless room. Thrilled to have a steady paycheck, she doesn't ask many questions of her nameless, faceless, halitosis-breathed boss or her new cringe-inducing, barbified work-pal Trishiffany. But as time passes, and the gray files continue to pile up, her curiosity gets the best of her and she begins sneaking around the hallways, knocking on locked doors, and walking into the complex through different entryways, trying to determine just what it is she and the other bloodshot-eyed bureaucrats do each day. I love how Helen uses language to tease and taunt her readers. Some early reviews are not fans of her withholding essential background and personal details, but I can appreciate her need to limit our scope strictly to the narrator's close third person perspective. Main characters are practically two-dimensional, reduced to their most defining characteristics (her boss, for example, aka Person with Bad Breath) and the workplace conversations Josephine finds herself involved in begin to grow increasingly more bizarre as the story unfolds. The frustration I first felt regarding Josephine's initial blase approach towards the situations she finds herself in quickly gave way to a shared confusion. Is she losing her mind? Why are her boss and co-workers so enigmatic? Can the numbers buried within those files mean what she's beginning to believe they mean? And what of her husband's recent disappearances? Fans of Amelia Gray's Threats, Jac Jemc's My Only Wife, and Saramago's All the Names will most definitely appreciate The Beautiful Bureaucrat. This crafty little novel hides more within its slim pages than initially meets the eye. Don't let Josephine's humdrum dead-end data entry job lull you to sleep, my pretties. Prepare to be slapped awake by the realization that nothing is what it seems. THis is a rabbit hole you won't easily climb your way out of. Remember, the database will always be updated. The data will be entered. And once you start, stopping is not allowed. all wowed. a lo wed. all dowed. dead wall.

  13. 4 out of 5

    AmberBug com*

    www.shelfnotes.com review Dear Reader, 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 d www.shelfnotes.com review Dear Reader, 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. Happy Reading, AmberBug P.S. - I received this e-book free from Netgalley/Publisher.

  14. 5 out of 5

    El

    I heard about this book from some other book review on NPR or the New York Times. I'm sorry, normally I keep better track of those things, but for some reason I didn't write it down this time. The reason I was intrigued after reading that review was because it referred to this book as a sort of "office space dystopia." I liked the sound of that because I work in an office space and it often feels like a dystopia. It also sucks my soul and makes me want to die. Let me read about others who want to I heard about this book from some other book review on NPR or the New York Times. I'm sorry, normally I keep better track of those things, but for some reason I didn't write it down this time. The reason I was intrigued after reading that review was because it referred to this book as a sort of "office space dystopia." I liked the sound of that because I work in an office space and it often feels like a dystopia. It also sucks my soul and makes me want to die. Let me read about others who want to die because of their soul-sucking job! Josephine does not work in an office quite like mine. In the beginning she interviews for and is accepted for a job working on the Database. The Database is capitalized throughout, so you know it's important and vague and probably scary. I have a program at my office I like to just call The SharePoint because, well, that's what it is, but also because it's important and vague and probably scary, so it needs to be capitalized. Also since I helped create this particular SharePoint, I feel like it's my little baby. Yeah, like Rosemary's Baby. It is the spawn of the Devil. Sorry, this is not about my own personal dystopia. Josephine is excited about the job, goes in with high hopes, and a high sense of importance. But, not surprisingly, the soul-sucking begins. She is forbidden to speak to anyone about what she does, and her husband is also unable to speak to anyone about what he does. So there's a whole lot of not-speaking going on, which is always a good sign that something is rotten in Denmark. But they don't realize that, everything is Situation Normal, and at least they're making money. I've seen comparisons to Kafka and Camus and Atwood and Orwell and some other people, and they're all valid comparisons. This is not the best book I've read, but I give major props to Phillips for writing about one of the scariest places to have to work: the office. The reveal was fine, but sort of expected by that point. I was able to read this book in one day, sweltering in my brother's non-air-conditioned apartment on one of the hottest days of the years, blowing on his cats periodically to make sure they didn't die from the heat. So this was a fine book to have on hand. It helped pass the time, I didn't hate it, and it gave me something to think about - primarily just how much my job really is a dystopia, and also how much I now want to write a different version of the office space dystopia. I feel it was too long to be a short story, too short to be a novel, and not quite novella-enough to be a novella, whatever that means.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gerhard

    At a slim 135 pages (Kindle version, in Amazon’s sexy new Bookerly font), Helen Phillips’s book reads more like a novella than a fully-fledged novel. Indeed, I also think it would have worked far better as a novel if she had focused more on the relationship between Joseph and Josephine, which implodes so suddenly and so dramatically that I was caught rather unawares. Also, one is able to guess the big Plot Twist well before the end, which deprives the denouement of much of its power. A good descr At a slim 135 pages (Kindle version, in Amazon’s sexy new Bookerly font), Helen Phillips’s book reads more like a novella than a fully-fledged novel. Indeed, I also think it would have worked far better as a novel if she had focused more on the relationship between Joseph and Josephine, which implodes so suddenly and so dramatically that I was caught rather unawares. Also, one is able to guess the big Plot Twist well before the end, which deprives the denouement of much of its power. A good description of this would be part existentialist conundrum and part Kafka nightmare. The book’s focus on the minutiae of a typical suburban couple’s life sits uncomfortably with the broader weirdness which Phillips tries to inject into her story (people without faces, mysterious strangers following her, a mysterious concrete building with staircases and rows of doors that seem to go on forever). I was also unable to conclude if the writing was deliberately deflective. Early on Josephine sees a door down the hallway from their sublet open, with “a huge dog there, straining and snarling as though it had three heads.” Every time the dog is referenced thereafter, it is referred to as being three-headed. Which is not the same thing ... so did the bloody dog have three heads or not? (And why does it have its own apartment, I kept on thinking? You can see why I ended up being quite frustrated by this). I think the book’s biggest failure is the character of Joseph, who remains pretty much a cipher throughout (larger because his masculinity is reserved for a rather unpalatable deus ex machina at the end). The depiction of sexual tension between the couple, and the (d)evolution of their relationship into a rape-like territorial battle, is too broadly played to be as dreadful as similar gender dynamics in an Ian McEwan novel, for example. And then there is the bloody pomegranate, which features prominently on the cover. Again this is an instance of symbolism being bent to perform the dual role of foreshadowing and psychological nuance. I think this book would serve best as an introduction to a general reader not overly familiar with such related genres as the New Weird. My response to it was muted, to the point of actively not liking it by the end, as I was expecting so much more.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Taryn

    The description from the back: A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe. The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a weird and interesting little book with a strange cast of characters and eerie settings. Josephine and her husband begin mind-numbing database entry jobs that turn out to be anything but ordinary! I felt a sense of foreboding throughout the entire book, as if there was something ominous lurking behind the bare, stained walls. The description from the back: A young wife's new job in an enigmatic organization pits her against the unfeeling machinations of the universe. The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a weird and interesting little book with a strange cast of characters and eerie settings. Josephine and her husband begin mind-numbing database entry jobs that turn out to be anything but ordinary! I felt a sense of foreboding throughout the entire book, as if there was something ominous lurking behind the bare, stained walls. It was like traversing a surreal, Kafkaesque nightmare. Still, the distance between four o'clock and five o'clock, between 148 files and 166 files, often felt interminable. Sometimes, in the depths of the afternoon, Josephine would have a thought--an intense, riveting thought, incongruous with her current task and location, something she ought to share with Joseph, a hint of a scene from a dream or a forgotten memory from when she was a kid, a complicated pun or a new conviction about how they ought to live their lives--then the moment would pass and the thought would be lost, trapped forever between the horizontal and vertical lines of the Database. She'd spend the rest of the workday mourning the loss, resenting the jail cell from which her thought would never escape. I like how Josephine's appearance deteriorates as the unfeeling gears of bureaucracy seem to grind at her soul. The antagonists aren't your typical bad-to-the-bone villains, but are "just doing their job." The chirpy lack of humanity is terrifying! It is only 177 pages and it reads like a fast-paced thriller, so it only took a few hours to read. My favorite quote in the book: Only he had stood on street corners beside her and their piled detritus. Only their two minds in the entire universe contained the same specific set of images: a particular pattern of shadow on the ceiling above a bed, a particular loop of highway ramp circled just as a song about a circle began to play on the radio. Tens of thousands of conversations and jokes. Without him she was just a lonely brain hurtling through space, laughing quietly to itself. The frequent word plays got a little irritating to read, because they seemed so non-sensical and the sheer amount of them really broke the flow of the narrative. But I think the word games were a source of comfort to Josephine, as her world as she knew it seemed to be disintegrating. It also set up the "file" realization, but that was a little cheesy. I did expect (view spoiler)[ a little bargaining at the end, which didn't happen. (hide spoiler)] I really liked this book, but I am sucker for stories where really weird things happen to extremely ordinary people with mundane, monotonous lives. I also have an affection for vague settings and odd characters that are only identified by a single characteristic or job title! If you liked this book or if even if you you just like the concept, you might want to try out Jose Saramago (All The Names especially and Death With Interruptions). Warning: He is stingy with periods! I also thought about these movies as I was reading: The Adjustment Bureau (based on a short story by Phillp K. Dick), Stranger than Fiction and Enemy (based of The Double by Saramago). Thanks to Henry Holt and Company for an ARC of The Beautiful Bureaucrat, in exchange for an honest review. This book will be released August 11, 2015.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lynn

    Full review: http://books-n-music.blogspot.com/201.... Definitely not my cup of tea, this one. Confirmation that overall I can tell when a book is something I will enjoy much. It was definitely unique and different. I could identify many writing strategies employed, but, unfortunately that meant I was definitely not engaged with the story itself. Honestly, I never would have read it if not for several bloggers I follow having loved it. And although I wasn't attracted to it myself, I decided to f Full review: http://books-n-music.blogspot.com/201.... Definitely not my cup of tea, this one. Confirmation that overall I can tell when a book is something I will enjoy much. It was definitely unique and different. I could identify many writing strategies employed, but, unfortunately that meant I was definitely not engaged with the story itself. Honestly, I never would have read it if not for several bloggers I follow having loved it. And although I wasn't attracted to it myself, I decided to force myself outside my comfort zone. I was never truly able to suspend my disbelief and buy into most aspects of this story, though I could extrapolate several various allegories from it, I have no idea as to what I believe the author intended, unless it was meant to be strictly abstract with each reader interpreting their own unique meaning, just as we do with books! Since I rarely ever research a book much before reading it, after just now having read the NY Times review of this one, I guess I did "get it," though I found Phillips' writing to be disjointed, many times seemingly meaningless word association exercises strung together; it verged on nonsensical for me until a bit over the halfway mark when I began to piece some of it together to make what I hoped would be a whole understanding. I think my feelings about this one are fairly close to mine about Animal Farm--except I felt Orwell at least made his story much more understandable (perhaps obvious is a better word) and his writing at least flowed overall for me. Though I was eventually bored by Animal Farm, I was almost immediately bored by The Beautiful Bureaucrat.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Freesiab (Bookish Review)

    This is probably the best book I've read all year. If you're hesitant to read sci fi, I would say this is sci fi "light". Meaning it won't overwhelm you. It's a story of a married couple who move to a city for a better life. The wife finally gets a job as a bureaucrat in a mysterious company. We aren't told much about the world they live in but it's certainly odd. It's only enough to give you a weird feeling that makes the story become increasing curious. I love the word plays and it's very clev This is probably the best book I've read all year. If you're hesitant to read sci fi, I would say this is sci fi "light". Meaning it won't overwhelm you. It's a story of a married couple who move to a city for a better life. The wife finally gets a job as a bureaucrat in a mysterious company. We aren't told much about the world they live in but it's certainly odd. It's only enough to give you a weird feeling that makes the story become increasing curious. I love the word plays and it's very clever. It's a perfect length. In a world of 5 stars it's a 10. I'll be reading everything by Helen Phillips!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Robinson

    Imagine that Samuel Beckett were a young female writer who decided to write a novella about the Akashic records. This is short, well written, entertaining, and will appeal to people who enjoy the surreal.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Philip

    Okay, so I didn't dislike this as much as some readers. But I didn't love it either, and so I think a right-down-the-middle 3 stars is the proper score for a book I alternately kinda liked and then couldn't-wait-for-it-to-end. Many other reviews refer to this as "Kafka-esque" or magic realism, neither of which I'm real familiar with, so both of which could be right. But for me, it reminded me more specifically of Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team" (which was made into the film "Th Okay, so I didn't dislike this as much as some readers. But I didn't love it either, and so I think a right-down-the-middle 3 stars is the proper score for a book I alternately kinda liked and then couldn't-wait-for-it-to-end. Many other reviews refer to this as "Kafka-esque" or magic realism, neither of which I'm real familiar with, so both of which could be right. But for me, it reminded me more specifically of Philip K. Dick's short story "The Adjustment Team" (which was made into the film "The Adjustment Bureau"), and Peter Brown's Smallcreep's Day.* The initial setup was kind of (small)creepy, and the end did have an interesting twist. But the whole middle half of the book was vaguely dull and confusing, so that despite its almost novella length, I found it overall kind of boggy. This story might have worked better in book (rather than audio) form, as there is extensive wordplay that just sounds confusing when read aloud, as well as passages that ultimately turned out to be dreamlike - and so perhaps were italicized or otherwise set apart on the page, making them easier to identify and then set apart. * Smallcreep's Day is slightly better known as a concept album (and debut solo project) of Mike Rutherford, himself better known as the guitarist for Genesis and later founder of Mike and the Mechanics.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Justine

    I had a little read of other reviews while I was debating what mine would be and they're pretty negative. This book is a little bit weird and very ambiguous, but that's why I liked it. Questions were answered and not answered, the ending was what you make of it and I must have been in the mood for this type of book. I really rather enjoyed. Perhaps an open mind and no expectations are required, or maybe just be a little bit weird yourself 😉

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah at Sarah's Bookshelves

    Visit my blog, www.sarahsbookshelves.com, for the full review: Helen Phillips’ debut novel is a tiny ball of weirdness…reminiscent of a demented “Office Space”…that had me on the edge of my seat. What I Loved: - I was on the edge of my seat virtually the entire time I was reading. I just had to know…what the heck is going on here?! The entire book feels like a riddle that the reader needs to unravel. And, once the the riddle of Josephine’s company has been solved, you’re left with much broader que Visit my blog, www.sarahsbookshelves.com, for the full review: Helen Phillips’ debut novel is a tiny ball of weirdness…reminiscent of a demented “Office Space”…that had me on the edge of my seat. What I Loved: - I was on the edge of my seat virtually the entire time I was reading. I just had to know…what the heck is going on here?! The entire book feels like a riddle that the reader needs to unravel. And, once the the riddle of Josephine’s company has been solved, you’re left with much broader questions to ponder. Is this some huge metaphor? What is Josephine’s company’s place in the broader world? What does it all MEAN?! All this would make for a great book club discussion. - There were multiple moments where I said, “oh my god”…including when I thought the story was wrapping up, but Phillips turned out not to be done with me yet. - This book has a futuristic, dream-like quality. It’s almost as if Josephine, instead of living her real life, has stepped into an alternate reality. - There is a character named Trishiffany…quite possibly the best character name I’ve ever seen! - Phillips was masterful in portraying how Josephine begins to mentally unravel. Numbers (the data Josephine is responsible for processing) are becoming seductive and gradually beginning to take over her brain, almost hypnotizing her. And, she plays with words, sometimes using anagrams, and sometimes just seeing different combinations than what’s actually there.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    It seems a bit Grumpy of me to give the book two stars instead of three, but I also feel like I need to hurry up and review it before I decide to make it just one. The set-up is intriguing, and the language (at first, anyway) so lively and engaging that I decided to get this from the library after it passed the Read The First Page test at a bookstore. It's a quick read, what with only 190 or so small pages, and lots of white space to boot, but it felt more like an exercise than a fully realized It seems a bit Grumpy of me to give the book two stars instead of three, but I also feel like I need to hurry up and review it before I decide to make it just one. The set-up is intriguing, and the language (at first, anyway) so lively and engaging that I decided to get this from the library after it passed the Read The First Page test at a bookstore. It's a quick read, what with only 190 or so small pages, and lots of white space to boot, but it felt more like an exercise than a fully realized novel. The characters are not quite flesh-and-blood enough for me, and there are too many moments where I expected either Josephine (our heroine) or Joseph (her husband with the similar name) to kind of explode. And then they would just go to sleep, or eat something, and none of the actual confrontations that should have happened ever did. There's a mystery/sci-fi plot to keep you engaged, and some moments of striking imagery, but at the end I'm not sure it coheres into anything substantial. And the wordplay that starts off being engaging becomes just annoying. Did you realize File and Life are anagrams?? If not, you will when "File! Life! File! Life" is repeated half a dozen times within two pages.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kristen Shaw

    Interesting and unsettling. A contemporary take on magical realism and the uncanny mixed with speculative fiction. People have compared this unfavourably to Borges and Kafka, which seems a little unfair. I like that this novel addresses similar existential issues, but from the perspective of a woman. And, unlike Borges and Kafka, where the unreality of their fictions is depersonalized, almost fable-like in that the protagonists stand in for the philosophical "every man," The Beautiful Bureaucrat Interesting and unsettling. A contemporary take on magical realism and the uncanny mixed with speculative fiction. People have compared this unfavourably to Borges and Kafka, which seems a little unfair. I like that this novel addresses similar existential issues, but from the perspective of a woman. And, unlike Borges and Kafka, where the unreality of their fictions is depersonalized, almost fable-like in that the protagonists stand in for the philosophical "every man," The Beautiful Bureaucrat plays with similar themes while also making you care about the main character and her struggle. While other reviews have suggested the characters are unremarkable and/or unlikeable, I didn't feel this way at all. I quite liked Josephine and thought it was interesting how Phillips represented Josephine's relationships with other women: her mother, Trishiffany, and Hillary. I'd like to re-read this to think more about the role of food, domesticity, and sex, all of which are explored here in fascinating ways. I mean, there IS a pomegranate on the cover. Definitely some interesting things going on here that I think many reviewers missed.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Spoilers. I listened to this book on audio CD because I'm trying to get more into magical realism as a genre. I liked the conceit of the story--that Josephine is unknowingly typing the death dates of strangers into a database--but I'm not sure that the story arc made the best use of the author's worldbuilding. Josephine becomes completely obsessed with a potential pregnancy, and that's the only momentum the author seems interested in, but I tend to check out of stories where a woman goes bonkers Spoilers. I listened to this book on audio CD because I'm trying to get more into magical realism as a genre. I liked the conceit of the story--that Josephine is unknowingly typing the death dates of strangers into a database--but I'm not sure that the story arc made the best use of the author's worldbuilding. Josephine becomes completely obsessed with a potential pregnancy, and that's the only momentum the author seems interested in, but I tend to check out of stories where a woman goes bonkers for babies, so it totally lost me when that kicked in. She doesn't go anywhere, she doesn't do anything apart from freak out over Joseph's death file--there's no threat of him actually dying because it all goes away with a bit of white-out, and then the main characters are left in a file room for every living creature on earth. Is this meant to strike the reader with existential horror?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    In Helen Phillips's fabulist novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, we’re treated to some heavy philosophical ruminations about life and mortality. What does it mean to be alive in face of our physical vulnerabilities and the smallness of our existence? To be specks in the grand universe…a number on a spreadsheet? Ponder the sheer implications of it for a moment and get underneath the crust of complacency/delusion, and you are thrust into something akin to exhilaration perhaps? Anxiety? Paranoia? Josep In Helen Phillips's fabulist novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, we’re treated to some heavy philosophical ruminations about life and mortality. What does it mean to be alive in face of our physical vulnerabilities and the smallness of our existence? To be specks in the grand universe…a number on a spreadsheet? Ponder the sheer implications of it for a moment and get underneath the crust of complacency/delusion, and you are thrust into something akin to exhilaration perhaps? Anxiety? Paranoia? Josephine Newbury and Joseph Jones are a couple who are struggling to get their acts together after moving to the city. They are newlyweds still struggling to get into the rhythm of their marriage. As any young couple, they are strapped for cash. Josephine interviews for a ho-hum data entry job at a company vaguely called AZ/ZA. As she interviews for this joyless job in a windowless building, talking to a someone she calls “The Person with Bad Breath,” there is ever present undercurrent of dread and mystery. Why can’t she see his face? Why doesn’t he register in her mind? “The person who interviewed her had no face. … The interviewer’s skin bore the same grayish tint as the wall behind, the eyes were obscured by a pair of highly reflective glasses, the fluorescence flattened the features assembled above the genderless gray suit . ... The lips, dry and faintly wry, parted to release the worst breath Josephine had ever smelled.” Phillips seems to be making a comment on modern life, where everything, even people, becomes lost in the blur, flattened, warped. To no surprise, Josephine's job is interminable. The work is the same, day in and day out. Eventually, Josephine literally loses herself in the job, her work subsuming her identity. In this way, the book's constant comparisons to Kafka would seem apt, but it can also be compared easily to Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Institutions and individuals become commodified, altering each other in their soul-less, interactions. DATA! In contemporary parlance, big data is in. Facebook, Google, even sites like Goodreads or LibraryThing are all collecting reams and reams of data. It’s what all major companies do but won't necessarily talk about. For years, I worked as a data wonk, crunching numbers in Stata, writing elaborately rendered .do files with loops and loops of code automating analysis of massive data files. The Beautiful Bureaucrat seems to capture that same awe of the dizzying beauty of data (yes, it can be strangely beautiful, believe it or not); the only difference is that there is no automation in AZ/ZA. Josephine is the code. She literally has to hand-enter information and cross check paper files to the computer. What's so clever about The Beautiful Bureaucrat is how Phillips is able to go from a simple exploration of the database to an exploration of the Database. It’s no surprise, then, that the database/Database seemingly asserts a surreal, authoritative control over Josephine’s reality. The greater part of the novel is her struggle to unpack the meaning of the work she does. It takes over her life in the most bodily of ways: Her eyes are constantly dry, bloodshot from too much computer screen time (staring into the abyss, perhaps?). When she stares at her drab office walls, she is haunted by “scratches, smears, shadowy fingerprints, the echoes of hands.” Outside of work, the reach of the Database is equally insidious. At home with her husband Joseph, she hears the numbers in the flush of the toilet. In the throes of an orgasm, she screams “041-74-3400!”— her husband’s social security number. The blur of names from the piles of files gets mixed up in her mind, and she starts muttering plays on words ("boomhaven" gets transposed into "haven-tomb") that brings to mind a kind of acquired dyslexia. It’s pretty obvious that the mysterious Database will eventually reveal itself. Despite the brain fog her tedious work brings, Josephine happens upon a chilling coincidence one Monday morning. (view spoiler)[The big reveal is that she has been working on some kind of database of death certificates. The dates are dates of birth and death. But a mystery remains. Is Josephine merely recording death dates, or are these dates the dates people will die? (hide spoiler)] Josephine, the data entry specialist turns into a sleuth. What she ultimately discovers—what she fears most—threatens to unravel her already frazzled mind. What’s particularly noteworthy about The Beautiful Bureaucrat are the various side characters that pop into Josephine’s life: the waitress at the diner who says loony, cryptic things; the overly chummy co-worker, a kind of frenemy counterpart to Josephine. Even the company she works for is such a presence in the book that it really is a character unto itself—a kind of creator/deity/guiding hand. Reality and delusion; truth and fiction; discovery and delusion—these are all the dichotomies that Phillips explores in the book. It’s remarkable how much depth is packed in this slim novel. This book will stay with me for its uncanny and surreal imagery and symbolism. [Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher for an honest and candid review. This review was originally written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.]

  27. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    This was an incredibly intriguing read. I never knew where it was going, but I knew something was going to happen. How can one NOT be drawn in by a book whose first line is "The person who interviewed her had no face."? Short but it pulls you in, quickly.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Woodbury

    A surreal novel that I liked more than loved. I was curious after reading Phillips' newest novel, which I absolutely adored, to see what else she's done. This is solid, if you'd like Auster to be shorter and funnier.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    [5 stars] It feels like everyone and their refrigerator has been talking about this book for forever, and yet it’s only just been released this week. So maybe not *everyone* is talking about it, but certainly in the circles in which I run. If you’re NOT talking about it, well you should consider it. I don’t even know where to begin with this book. I had some mildly excessive hype going into it, but luckily it more than lived up to the challenge. This tells the story of a young, married couple who [5 stars] It feels like everyone and their refrigerator has been talking about this book for forever, and yet it’s only just been released this week. So maybe not *everyone* is talking about it, but certainly in the circles in which I run. If you’re NOT talking about it, well you should consider it. I don’t even know where to begin with this book. I had some mildly excessive hype going into it, but luckily it more than lived up to the challenge. This tells the story of a young, married couple who have fallen on some hard times. Intermittently jobless, at times essentially homeless, or living in one crap-hole or another, baby-making troubles… it feels as if things will never look up. Until Josephine earns gainful employment performing basic data entry, in a solitary office with disgusting pink walls, in a creepily quiet building, in an abandoned part of town. Then things start to get weird… or maybe they started off weird… Reading this felt very strange, in that, I was so incredibly uncomfortable, jittery, and could not stop fidgeting the entire time. That may sound like a bad thing, but really, I was just so intensely engrossed in the story I couldn’t help but feel physical effects. That’s some good, atmospheric writing right there. I’m not going to lie, this reading experience caused me to have an existential mini-crisis. I have many many intense thoughts on the deeper meanings of this book, which I won’t get into here due to spoilers. All I really want to say is this: even if you think weird is not your thing, read this book. Even if you think horror is not your thing, read this book. Basically, just read this book. It’s super short, thus not a huge investment of time if it ends up not being for you. For more, visit http://www.bookishtendencies.com

  30. 5 out of 5

    Wendy Cosin

    The Beautiful Bureaucrat is an inventive story and a quick read. Dystopian but familiar, it portrays a dismal future. Josephine and Joseph leave the safety of the hinterlands to find work in a big city. They can only afford weekly sublets in apartments that become ever drearier. The story focuses on Josephine's new job as a bureaucrat entering data in a mysterious database. Her windowless office (..." she realized it wasn't just years of tack holes and tape that made these walls look so tired. T The Beautiful Bureaucrat is an inventive story and a quick read. Dystopian but familiar, it portrays a dismal future. Josephine and Joseph leave the safety of the hinterlands to find work in a big city. They can only afford weekly sublets in apartments that become ever drearier. The story focuses on Josephine's new job as a bureaucrat entering data in a mysterious database. Her windowless office (..." she realized it wasn't just years of tack holes and tape that made these walls look so tired. These were scratches, smears, shadowy fingerprints, the echoes of hands") is more dreary than the apartments. She can't reach Joseph when he sometimes doesn't come home at night. She has interesting interactions with a few peculiar people, none of which are developed as characters. I didn't find any deep insights in the book, but I enjoyed reading it and have thought about it enough in the past couple of days to give it a decent rating. Update: The August 9 NYT Book Review found more depth than I did. I got the god stuff, but not the questions about how well we can know another individual or the balance of power. Review link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/09/boo...

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