Sunday, August 9, 2015

"The Beautiful Bureaucrat"

Helen Phillips is the author of the story collection And Yet They Were Happy, which was named a notable collection by The Story Priz, and the children’s adventure book, Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her new  novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
“This is the food I’ve always wanted to eat,” she confessed.

“Of course!” Trishiffany purred. “Of course it is, Jojo doll.”

Josephine finished the cookie and began another. But Trishiffany wasn’t eating.

“What, making me eat alone?” Josephine said.

“Oh ... my girlish figure.” Trishiffany looked down at the pink lines of her hips.

“What about my girlish figure?” she retorted, picking up a third cookie, and then paused, wondering if the cookies might be poisoned.

“Well I haven’t been through what you’ve been through lately,” Trishiffany said. “You’ve earned a cookie or seven.”

“What I’ve been through lately?” Josephine repeated slowly, alarmed. She hadn’t said a word to anyone about anything. Yet at the same time it felt so pleasant to hear someone express compassion for her situation. But then she conjectured, with a jolt, that Trishiffany could be the other woman. “What have I been through lately?” she said, guarded, testing the waters.

“Oh Jojo doll!” Trishiffany said. “You’re so cute! You don’t need to be so suspicious all the time, you know?”

Josephine looked directly into Trishiffany’s bloodshot eyes. Her own tired eyes recognized themselves in her coworker’s. You tend to be worrisome and insecure inside. She dismissed her ludicrous hunch.

“I know,” Josephine admitted. She bit into the third cookie. The cork was loosening—she wanted to talk to Trishiffany—about her bad skin, her unreliable eyes, her vanishing husband, the man in the Chinese restaurant, the vagabond in her orgasm. She wanted to be held by someone kind. She wanted to cry into a cocktail across from a woman who always remembered Kleenex in her purse.
It just so happens that Page 69 touches on most all of my protagonist Josephine’s problems. We witness an interaction between Josephine and her creepy/friendly coworker Trishiffany, which culminates in a list of Josephine’s current challenges: the physical deterioration she’s experiencing due to her bizarre job, the stalker she may or may not be imagining, and her husband Joseph’s recent disappearances. Throughout her conversation with Trishiffany, Josephine teeters between finding her coworker’s company comforting and upsetting. Trishiffany has just brought her homemade cookies, the exact nourishment that Josephine needs—but Josephine’s paranoid state of mind leads her to wonder if they are poisoned. Trishffany expresses sympathy for Josephine’s recent drama—but Trishiffany’s inexplicable knowledge about that drama leads Josephine to wonder if her husband is involved with Trishiffany. Throughout the book, I’m interested in this teetering: between realism and surrealism, between humor and horror, between bleakness and beauty. This page also includes one of my favorite lines in the book: “She wanted to cry into a cocktail across from a woman who always remembered Kleenex in her purse.” I wish I were the kind of woman who always remembered Kleenex in her purse.
Visit Helen Phillips's website.

--Marshal Zeringue