A self-consciously artful concoction by memoirist Alhadeff (The Sun at Midday, 1997) skims the surface of a glamorous woman’s life as shaped by her djinn, the spirit that’s taken residence in her body.
Although the djinn adds italicized commentary from time to time, particularly at the beginning and end, to remind readers of its importance, most of the story is narrated by the unnamed young woman. Of Jewish descent and raised in Japan and Italy (not unlike the author), the woman attends an elite European convent, then works in Milan for a designer she calls “the master.” There are elaborate dinners—the narrator lists the menu for every meal—and beautiful clothes (described in detail). The narrator also analyzes how she became “entangled with homosexuals,” who are ultimately unavailable yet willing to be pleased more easily than heteros. She has an affair with a bisexual actor, but when marriage seems a possibility, the djinn steps in to keep the narrator’s spirit free. Said narrator ends up in New York (how is not explained), working frantically as a writer to pay for her expensive apartment and being involved with Hare, a married man whose wife spends much of her time in Mexico. Hare does something with art that requires travel and dinner parties full of highbrow chat. His 89-year-old mother, “the Princess,” whom the narrator met in Europe independently of Hare, comes to New York and stays with him. She wears blue dresses with low-slung belts and reads Kant. The narrator takes care of the Princess even when Hare is away. The radiation treatments the Princess undergoes for cancer are the most alive moments here, and the relationship between the two women the most developed and heartfelt. But the Princess returns to Italy to die.
Meat-and-potato realists should steer clear, but those who appreciate artifice and abstraction in fiction—including language describing the narrator having her “limbs waxed”—may be intermittently charmed.