Sometimes things just don’t work out, no matter how hard we wish they would. But there’s irony, so we have that going for us. Right?
The talented Chicago-based Meno (The Great Perhaps, 2009, etc.) has composed a gorgeous little indie romance, circa 1999. The titular protagonist is Odile, the arty, brazen and fearless 23-year-old who loves graffiti, the Velvet Underground’s “After Hours,” riding her bicycle around the city and the married guy she can’t have. She’s also chronically unemployable, generous to a fault and susceptible to dumb mistakes like offering a sexual favor to a co-worker who can’t keep his mouth shut, forcing Odile to quit and go take a crap job in customer service. Jack is a few years older and a spiraling tragedy of his own making. An art school graduate with no creative traction, he’s devastated by his abrupt divorce from Elise, to whom he was married less than a year. To fill his soul, Jack records things, and Meno turns these fleeting sounds into mini-portraits. “Everything is white and soft and dazzling,” he writes. “And Jack, in front of his apartment building, can’t help but stop and record as much of it as he can. Because it’s a marvel, an explosion, a cyclone of white and silver flakes.” The encounter between these two creative iconoclasts is less courting and more epiphany, as they discover the amazing and transformative effects of love with a joy as naïve as that of children. Their story can be artificially cute, with secret messages scrawled on city walls and dirty magazines awash with surrealistic Polaroid snapshots. But when things Get Weird as things do when we’re young, Meno is refreshingly honest in portraying the lowest lows and not just the innocent highs.
A sweetheart of a novel, complete with a hazy ending.