cover image The Beautiful Bureaucrat

The Beautiful Bureaucrat

Helen Phillips. Holt, $25 (192p) ISBN 978-1-62779-376-6

Phillips's (And Yet They Were Happy) novel incisively depicts the corporate hell in which young drones toil in faceless buildings, sorting meaningless files according to inscrutable policies. Josephine Anne Newbury takes a data-entry job and finds she can't quite leave her work at the office; her husband and friends suddenly seem less real than Room 9997, where Josephine compiles a mysterious and massive database that seems to dictate reality itself, while warding off Trishiffany, her workplace "frenemy%E2%80%9D from the so-called Department of Processing Errors. Discovering that she can't quit%E2%80%94the rules don't allow it%E2%80%94and realizing that she never caught her direct superior's name, Josephine wonders if she's losing her mind, fears she's somehow pregnant by data, then becomes convinced of her husband's imminent demise because a file contains the date of his death. In fact, things are much worse than Josephine suspects. When even the smallest act requires allocation to the appropriate department and red tape dictates the limits of love, the life of a bureaucrat proves to be full of danger. Phillips's black comedy of white-collar life doesn't reinvent the meaning of the word Kafkaesque, and to its credit, it doesn't try. The novel has enough horror and mordant humor to carry the reader effortlessly through its punchy send-up of entry-level institutionalization. [em](Aug.) [/em]