Pretend I’m Dead
by Jen Beagin
Jen Beagin’s brilliant, off-beat and deeply moving novel introduces an unforgettable character, Mona – almost twenty-four, emotionally adrift and cleaning houses to get by. Volunteering for a needle-exchange programme, she falls for a recipient she calls Mr Disgusting, who proceeds to break her heart in unimaginable ways.
In search of healing, Mona decamps to Taos, New Mexico, for a fresh start, where she finds a community of seekers and cast-offs, all of whom have one or two things to teach her – the pyjama-wearing, blissed-out New Agers, the slightly creepy client with peculiar tastes in controlled substances, the psychic who might really be psychic. But always lurking just beneath the surface are her memories of growing up in a chaotic, destructive family from which she’s trying to disentangle herself, and the crushing legacy of the past she left behind.
The story of Mona’s journey to find her place in the world is at once fearless and wonderfully strange, true to life and boldly human, and introduces a stunning, one-of-a-kind new voice in American fiction.
It’s not often that I have the opportunity to read a whole book in a day, but that’s what I’ve done today with Jen Beagin‘s “Pretend I’m Dead”, as I sped through the pages on a sunny day in the park.
This book is strange, it’s so quirky and random, but I found I really liked it.
Mona is a cleaner, she cleans people’s houses for a living but this obviously not something she wants to do forever. Split into 4 parts, this book tells the story of Mona finding herself. The people she meets along the way help her to shape who she is becoming and who she wants to be. From drug addict, Mr Disgusting to divorced psychic Betty, each provide something special to help her grow.
Mona’s life is raw and messy. She has broken relationships with her parents, she’s had a pretty awful childhood and she doesn’t really have clue where her life is supposed to be going. With a lack of friends to confide in, Mona is a bit of a loner and entertains herself by taking photos of her posing, usually naked, in her clients’ homes.
Beyond that, this book is a little difficult to describe. There’s no real action or drama that occurs, it really is just Mona living her life but I liked how Beagin made this story feel brutally real. I felt like I was watching a film, one that isn’t afraid to tell the truth, and I felt there was a kind of Lena Dunham’s ‘Girls’ vibe going on at times. Aspects of the book were a little too ‘artsy’ for me as that’s not really my style, but as proved in the speed I finished it, I really did enjoy this story.
“It took a few years, but I realized that all of my bad qualities were just, uh, I don’t know. They were like fat and gristle clinging to a bone, but the bone was the real me, and the real me was strong and perfectly good. I just needed to have that rotten meat cut off me, burned away.”
Overall rating: A crazy little story about a young woman trying to get by. Mona is a great character who you don’t necessarily like but you want to do well. It’s certainly quirky but not enough to put you off it. I’m giving “Pretend I’m Dead” 4 stars.
Thank you to OneWorld Publications for sending me this review copy.