Office Girl seems like a light book, but it is not a light book. It is about choosing a creative life instead of one devoted to making money. How intentional was this?
Office Girl is my sixth novel, my eighth book. After my last two novels, The Great Perhaps and The Boy Detective Fails, which were increasingly complex and ambitious, following multiple characters over lengthy amounts of time, I wanted to write a book that focused on two characters, their relationship, and a brief moment in their lives. In the end, the book ended up being about brevity, about impermanence, and my hope was that someone who picked up the book would be able to read it in one sitting, experiencing the same, brief moments of sound, light, and color that the characters do. I was pretty aware that the book itself was a small, quiet gesture, which is what I was interested in at the time.
Obviously, most readers would like Odile and Jack to stay together. What are the odds of finding many like-minded people for characters such as yours?
In most narratives—books, films, plays—characters who fall in love, stay in love, and kiss at the end and, if you believe the final image—never stop kissing. But I’ve had these really interesting relationships with people—sometimes only lasting a few weeks—that affected me profoundly. I wanted to write a book about that, a brief relationship between two people that affected both of them deeply, a moment of connection between two people passing into adulthood. I had a feeling readers would want Odile and Jack to stay together and so I added the last chapter as a kind of parting image, trying to satisfy those people.
From Office Girl: “Listen, I’m going to give you some advice. Here it is: don’t hold onto things. It’s a problem the men in my family have. It’s taken me a long time to figure this out. Me, my father, my grandfather, we collect things. We collect miseries. It’s what we do. But sometimes the best thing to do is just to let things go. To let them pass.” When do you need to let things pass and when do you need to run out and claim them?
All along, Jack is unable to let go of things—his relationship with his wife, his sound project, his other artistic endeavors, and his feelings for Odile. Odile has the opposite problem; she never stops moving. Her artwork—graffiti and sketches mostly—are all done on the move. Her relationships lack any kind of commitment and even her mode of transportation—her bike—suggests forward movement. I think there is a kind of balance that’s really hard to find between the two: enjoying these brief small moments, valuing them for what they are, and then bravely moving onto the next ones. This is why, for that particular moment in time, Odile and Jack need each other.
Do your characters fail or succeed in this? What are you suggesting –are they going to end up artists or the usual drones?
I think it’s clear Jack is going to end up a substitute teacher, at least for the present. He’s found something that’s interesting, that’s rewarding, and also pays the bills, which is essential for any artist. Odile, on the other hand, I don’t know if I should comment on. I’m kind of hoping the reader will imagine a future for her that seems fitting.
Can you tell us your most recent favorite novels, music?
I really love the Handsome Furs last record, Sound Kapital. It perfectly captures the feeling of the book and I wish I had had it at the time to listen to. I always recommend a few bands, whose music did influence the mood of the novel: The Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, No Age, and the Duchess and the Duke. These are all indie bands with a relationship to pop music, which is how I’d categorize the novel.
Bonus Question: What are you working on now?
I’m writing a musical with composer/lyricist Adam Gwon. We collaborated on The Boy Detective musical a few years ago. The new one’s about a fifteen year-old girl who is homeschooled and who is forced to play in band with her family. She meets another Christian kid, a boy, who’s been kicked out of Bible Camp at the public libary. Then they begin an awkward romance. So it’s a comedy/tragedy. We’re writing it for Signature Theatre in Washington, D.C.