TOXICOLOGY by Jessica Hagedorn


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Hagedorn's fifth (Dream Jungle, 2004, etc.) could be classified as archetypal literary fiction, all post-modern character study rather than a narrative carrying the reader to a happily-ever-after conclusion.

The milieu is the West Village in New York City, and the story opens symbolically with the death of a hot young Hollywood actor. Among the gawkers outside his brownstone is Mimi Smith, a filmmaker with one movie to her credit. Mimi's in limbo, drinking too much, sampling too many drugs, pining for a missing boyfriend. Other characters swirling through Mimi's world include her daughter, Violet, far too young to be skipping school and partying in imitation of her mother. There is also Mimi's brother, Carmelo, a once-reformed druggie and sometime musician, and most provocatively, there is Mimi's downstairs neighbor, the elderly Eleanor Delacroix, a writer of measurable talent mired in grief because of the death of her longtime lover, Yvonne Wilder. There are more deaths to be reckoned with—Mimi and Bobby's parents were assassinated in their native country; their cousin, Agnes, was apparently abused as a sex slave and murdered; and Felix Montoya, a poet, friend and perhaps lover of Delacroix, is dead and buried in Mexico. These lives unfold at fame's periphery, where avant-garde means Mimi earns some notice but little money for her urban horror film, Blood Wedding. Mimi is an interesting literary character, albeit not necessarily sympathetic, at least as it might play in Peoria. Conversely, Delacroix is intriguingly drawn, a lioness in winter, stoked by cocaine and alcohol. Hagedorn writes dialogue without quotation marks, but conversations are easy enough to follow. Well into the book, she marries Mimi's story to Delacroix's with a passive seduction. The novel then morphs into an interview the notoriously publicity-averse Delacroix gives to a literary magazine called The Volga Review.

A peek into a peculiarly alluring world of art, fame and mortality.

Pub Date: April 18th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-670-02257-1
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2011


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