Odile, one of the main characters in Chicago author JoeMeno’s new novel Office Girl, is the type of free-spirited, quirky, twenty-something female character people might be familiar with from movies such as Garden State, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and 500 Days of Summer. As quirky if not quirkier than the female leads in those movies, Odile rides around Chicago on her bicycle even though it is winter. An art school dropout, she uses a silver marker to draw on—or deface, depending on your view— various signs and advertisements around the city. She also goes to art gallery openings mostly to express her distaste for the work on display. And, like the female leads in the aforementioned movies, she is beautiful.
The other main character in the book, Jack, also rides his bike around the city regardless of the season. Where Odile scribbles on signs, he rides around with a tape recorder. Sometimes he tapes actual sounds of the city, sometimes he turns on the tape player to record odd, and often silent, things such as a pink balloon rising up into the sky. He is a few years older than Odile and has recently split up with his wife. He is still reeling from this blow when Odile crosses paths with him.
Once the two cross paths while they are both working at an elevator music company called Muzak Situations, Office Girl could easily become a Wes Anderson movie on steroids. However, Meno makes the wise decision to fully develop both characters. The third section of the novel, simply titled “Odile and Jack,” is more from Jack’s point of view. He is entranced by Odile and follows her around hoping they might have some sort of relationship. He assists her with an art movement she has been planning for some time. This movement does not consist of them painting or sculpting. Instead, it revolves around them doing odd things in public like reenacting a scene from Jaws on the L or dressing up as ghosts on a crowded city bus. This is not a movement that will rival the surrealists as much as it is Odile’s effort to do something creative that will wake people up. The book also includes renderings of some of Odile’s drawings and pictures of scenes referred to in the book. This gives it the random feel of a zine and helps to further establish the feeling of the late nineties in which the book is set, a time when Facebook and Twitter did not exist.
Office Girl can’t be considered an action packed novel, but it is obvious from the get go that huge revelations and shocking plot twists were not Meno’s goals here. Despite the low key vibe, I did care about what became of Odile and Jack’s relationship as well as the struggles both of them went through in balancing rapidly approaching adult responsibilities with the freedom of youth.