Thursday, August 6, 2015

Helen Phillips' Guide to Books & Booze

Time to grab a book and get tipsy!

Back by popular demand, Books & Booze, originally a mini-series of sorts here on TNBBC challenges participating authors to make up their own drinks, name and all, or create a drink list for their characters and/or readers using drinks that already exist. 

Today, Helen Phillips shares the drink her main character Josephine day dreams about in her book The Beautiful Bureaucrat. 


All across the world, people with office jobs are sitting at their desks right this second, thinking about drinking …


In The Beautiful Bureaucrat, newly hired bureaucrat Josephine Newbury imagines drinking with all the strangers whose names she types into the mysterious database in her windowless office. It’s yet another painfully boring day at work, so “She entertained herself with the fantasy of meeting them—at, say, a bar with wooden walls, tin ceilings, bottles of glowing bronze liquids. She envisioned them rising up from behind the bars of the Database, stepping into her life, shaking her hand, ordering their drinks of choice, getting a little tipsy, slinging their arms over her shoulders, bestowing damp kisses upon her forehead, thanking her for her service.”  
In her fantasy, Josephine is drinking scotch, the “glowing bronze liquid”—something warm, solid, human, earthy, something to counterbalance her cold and inhuman workplace. Scotch to open her up to the arm-slinging, damp-kissing world. 


But by the time Josephine finally makes it to an actual bar, she’s in a bad state, “dry, thirsty and lonely.” Her husband Joseph has disappeared again. Her boss won’t let her quit. The entire city seems to be haunted. “She stepped over a small dead creature on the pavement. She stepped into a bar.”
It’s time for a gin and tonic. And another. And another.
It’s strong, but tastes enough like a soft drink that you don’t feel quite so weird about drinking alone.
Bottom-shelf gin, but a touch of dignity in the green sliver of lime.
“As her third cocktail arrived, she thought guiltily of her Puritan ancestors, walking clear-eyed and clean-livered through fresh fields … But the wooden bar was so beautiful, glass bottles the colors of precious metals, and now she was shaking hands with joy, hands shaking with joy.”
For a moment, she’s carried upward on that strange sweetness of tonic.
But she’s about to spot her stalker at the far end of the bar. She’s about to fall off the barstool. On the way home she’ll see a gorilla in a parked car and a mermaid in an industrial canal. At 2:57 a.m., she’ll be “wakeful, hot, hungry, bloodshot, regretful, poisoned.” At dawn she will awake to her biggest revelation yet.


            How about this? Let’s say that after the book ends, after coming out the other side of the wringer, Josephine goes to a bar with wooden walls and tin ceilings. Let’s say she finally gets her long-awaited scotch. She’s more than earned it.


Helen Phillips’ novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat is out from Henry Holt on August 11, 2015. She is also the author of the inter-genre collection And Yet They Were Happy (named a notable collection by The Story Prize) and the children’s adventure novel Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green. Helen is the recipient of a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction. Her work has been featured on PRI’s Selected Shorts and in Tin House. An assistant professor at Brooklyn College, she lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their children.

1 comment:

  1. This is delightful!! Helen Phillips is fantastic and The Beautiful Bureaucrat was amazing.