STARRED REVIEW
August 11, 2015

A dark side of data entry

By Helen Phillips
Review by
This surreal and entertaining debut is a concise, imaginative novel that explores life and death, work and home, personality and professionalism in an almost Orwellian fashion.
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After the struggle of extended unemployment, Josephine is finally hired by a large, aloof corporation that occupies a windowless building in a secluded part of town. Her job: Input seemingly random strings of numbers and names into a computer program known as The Database. Josephine’s co-workers—the few that she actually meets—are either standoffish, sinister or manic, and she wonders if the job will turn her like that, too.

Josephine’s relief at finding employment fades quickly, and after noticing connections between the names and numbers she inputs and local and national events, she struggles with the realization and new understanding of what her job might actually be. To add to her stress, she and her husband, Joseph, are evicted from their apartment, and forced to move from one slummy sublet to another.

The hours inch by and the stacks of files pile up at Josephine’s office, and she approaches each workday with increasing dread. After Joseph begins disappearing for days at a time and Josephine makes a poignant discovery regarding her own health, she sees a potential solution: Infiltrate the corporation, whose power, with every discovery, seems to grow and extend.

Brooklyn writer Helen Phillips is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Italo Calvino Prize, among others, and The Beautiful Bureaucrat was inspired by her own data-entry job. Her surreal and entertaining debut is a concise, imaginative novel that explores life and death, work and home, personality and professionalism in an almost Orwellian fashion. Precisely chosen language and a fast-paced structure leave readers feeling Josephine’s fear along with her, and contemplating their own world.

 

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