16 August 2016

 A Note on The Beautiful Bureaucrat


     Helen Phillips presents a really bleak existence for Josephine and Joseph moving to the city from a rural life finding jobs, requiring entries into a data base, subletting apartments,  completely unanchored.  The job does acquire meaning when Josephine, the narrator, learns the significance of the entries she makes marking the death of a person when that person becomes her husband.  It is difficult to imagine a more bleak and sinister existence than imagined by Ms. Phillips.  

     I did find the reflection of Josephine interesting when learning she was pregnant.  The thoughts and feelings of a woman first learning she is pregnant is something I had not read previously anywhere.  The trip to the local clinic was well-described and not somewhere one wants to spend a lot of time.

     Other than severe halitosis, her boss is not described other than purposefully not described as a person with no personal characteristics other than bad breath and an insistence that Josephine make her quota of data entries each day in a room with no windows, no pictures, no nothing but a computer for data entry and a stack of files.  Occasionally there is some interaction with other employees in a mostly deserted hallway building with locked doors.  Most of the interaction, what little there is, occurs in the bathroom.

     If a person were to live a life where nothing happens, nothing interesting exists, one's efforts are limited to having enough money to eat and sleep, just about anything is an improvement.   Something needs to happen whether good or bad; it really doesn't matter which.  The entries into the data base made by Josephine presage the death of the person whose name they enter.  When her husband's name appears, it causes her to act.  She initiates action, something is happening.  It doesn't turn out so well, but at least her brain is activated.