NARCISSUS ASCENDING by Karen McKinnon

NARCISSUS ASCENDING

KIRKUS REVIEW

A self-consciously literary but perceptive and well-paced first outing about the relationships among a handful of self-absorbed East Village hipsters.

Dreaming of the day her work will be at MoMA, Becky, an ambitious and talented collagist, prepares for her first solo show in her apartment off Avenue A. On hand are Hugh, an old flame visiting from San Francisco; Dahlia, a sometime dancer and full-time rich kid, currently Becky’s best friend; and, Max, a vain and seductive actor, invited by Dahlia despite Becky’s protests. Dahlia has decided that Becky’s opening is an opportunity to demonstrate to one other person, the wildly dramatic femme fatale Callie, that the four of them—each at one time involved with, in love with, betrayed by, and/or obsessed with Callie—have moved on and are better off without her. Leading up to the opening, McKinnon recalls the group’s past, then proceeds in present time as Callie pursues Becky’s friendship and exploits her weaknesses; Callie cheats on Hugh with Max; Callie seduces Dahlia, then rejects her, then tells Becky it was her she wanted all along. Initially intrusive, McKinnon’s arty prose style—no quotes for dialogue, no paragraph breaks between speakers, adjectival constructs like “speechimpedimented”—is ultimately well suited to the exploration of self-deception and self-justification. In the climactic scene, Callie, finally onstage, discovers that Becky has turned the most vulnerable moment of her past into art. In a whiplash-fast reinterpretation, we see that emotionally manipulative Callie (her combined suicide attempt/art vandalism is masterful) has been outmaneuvered by the heretofore apparently put-upon Becky, revealed now as a (to the author’s credit, still-sympathetic) monster of ambition.

The bare bones here could have become nothing more than a twentysomething melodrama, but McKinnon brings to it the breathtaking, self-important, urgency of youth, along with insight into the mind of the hungry artist. A gripping, revealing, entertaining debut.

Pub Date: June 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-29058-6
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Picador
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2002




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