Award-winning Brooklyn writer Helen Phillips will soon release “The Beautiful Bureaucrat” (Henry Holt; on sale Aug. 11) — a book that traces the story of Josephine, a newly married young woman who is relieved to finally have a job after a long period of unemployment and a string of bad luck.
In a windowless building in an isolated part of town, under the watchful eyes of her sinister boss, Josephine inputs an endless string of seemingly meaningless numbers into something known only as The Database. She’s hesitant to question the source of her newfound employment, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings — the office’s scarred pink walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long empty hallways.
Then, when her husband Joseph begins to disappear for days at a time with no explanation, Josephine’s creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread. She attempts to control her paranoia while the haunting truth about her work begins to take shape in her mind. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate a labyrinthine bureaucracy whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.
Phillips will celebrate the launch of her book on Aug. 13 at 7 p.m. at BookCourt (163 Court St.) in Cobble Hill, and on Aug. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at Greenlight Bookstore (686 Fulton St.) in Fort Greene.
Her inspiration for the book originated at the desk of her own data-entry job, where she began to think about the basic systems that form the foundation for all our human interactions. As she puts it: “All of us are, to the bureaucracy, simply a series of pieces of paper: a birth certificate, a voter registration, a visa application, a marriage license or two. We don’t feel like a piece of paperwork, and yet these forms and licenses gesture toward the entirety of human experience: the vitality, the lust, the grief, the loneliness, the hope.”
Phillips’s work has been featured on PRI’s Selected Shorts, in Tin House, Electric Literature, and BOMB.