A welcome sequel to one of last year’s most exciting debuts.
The first chapter of Beagin’s second novel is called “Poop.” Readers familiar with Pretend I’m Dead (2018) will not be surprised. Readers approaching Beagin for the first time should consider it an honest advertisement of what’s to come. Mona is a cleaning lady, which is to say that her business is filth. As she did in her debut, Beagin takes advantage of the peculiarly intimate relationship in which we engage when we pay other people to clean up our messes. Mona’s clients include a blind psychotherapist and her husband, who happens to be the man Mona calls Dark, someone she met once and can’t get out of her mind. There’s also a Hungarian couple, for whom she becomes a nude model. Mona’s complicated entanglements with these people are inevitable. She has some serious boundary issues, which we grow to understand in some detail in the chapter called “Mommy.” Mona is a tremendously engaging narrator. She’s sharp but not unkind. By the time this novel begins, she’s turned Fresh Air host Terry Gross into her imaginary sidekick, someone who "interview[s] her about the day-to-day hassles of being a cleaning lady in Taos" and sometimes acts as her "coach, therapist, surrogate parent." This is both funny and poignant—funny because it’s so unlikely, poignant because Mona could use a levelheaded friend. Indeed, Beagin excels at mixing comedy and pathos in a way that dilutes neither. This novel is ultimately a story about the meaning of home. Mona grew up shuttling between her grandparents’ apartment and her stepfather’s place. Neither was a great place for a child. She was institutionalized for a time. And then she was sent to live with a foster mother in Massachusetts. In Pretend I’m Dead, Mona follows a junkie to Taos. Here, she follows an innocuous nice guy to Bakersfield. What she discovers, though, is that the place she truly wants to be is the place she has created for herself.
Beagin secures her position as a new writer to watch.