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Pretend I'm Dead
By Jen Beagin
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
Any book that starts with a young volunteer at a needle exchange developing a crush on one of her junkie clients, deducing from his refusal of sterilizing equipment that he's not sharing his needles and is therefore single and eligible, is definitely a book for me; and that's merely page 1 of Jen Beagin's remarkably subversive Pretend I'm Dead, all the more astounding for coming out from the esteemed academic publisher Triquarterly Books at Northwestern University. A nearly perfect combination of character, plot and dialogue, this short "novel in stories" tells the engaging tale of super-messed-up protagonist Mona, a twentysomething slacker in a pre-iPhone world who starts the book as the only young white house-cleaner in the entirety of New England, where she engages in such art-school-flunky activities as taking photos of herself as a murder victim in clients' homes just for her own amusement. As Mona's world starts expanding, then (including an actual romantic relationship with the junkie in question, trying heroin herself, then through a series of complicated circumstances ending up in Taos, New Mexico, now cleaning the trailer homes of burnt-out New Agers), our trainwrecky hero stubbornly refuses to learn anything from it all, but nonetheless starts becoming just a little wiser about the world almost against her best intentions. A feverish page-flipper that I burned through from start to finish in only 24 hours, the only reason this isn't getting a perfect score is that the storyline loses track of itself for a large chunk of the second half, the result of this book originally being written as four long self-contained stories and only afterwards being hooked together as one narrative; other than that, though, I can confidently state that this is one of the most enjoyable and emotionally moving novels I've read in the last year, a strong recommendation to one and all that will undoubtedly be making our best-of lists at the end of 2016.
Out of 10: 9.7