Book Review: 'Pretend I'm Dead'

Jun 25, 2018

Whiting Award Winner Jen Beagin introduces us to a beguilingly damaged character in her debut novel, Pretend I’m Dead

When the book opens, 24-year-old Mona is a housekeeper in Boston. Having survived incompetent parents, Mona’s tough exterior and shrewd commentary on the world mask an empathic muscle that strengthens through the novel.

Aunt Sheila has been the ad hoc parent in Mona’s life and she owns the housekeeping service employing Mona. During the day, Aunt Sheila and Mona work together. While Sheila compartmentalizes the behind-the-scenes glimpses of her clients, Mona, with nothing to lose, chimes in with running psychoanalysis of each client—to great comedic effect.

When Sheila decides to sell the business and move to Florida, Mona is on her own. She is at the end of a heartbreaking relationship and finds herself making the first decisions that will determine her future. She moves to Taos, New Mexico; finds an apartment; and picks up housekeeping jobs to make ends meet. As Mona navigates being self-employed, she enters the murky waters of her own vulnerability.

With an acute sense of humor, Beagin ratchets up the tension as Mona investigates her clients’ lives. These intrusions provide Mona a mirror with which she can reflect on her own life and damaged childhood. Pretend I’m Dead elucidates sexual abuse, juxtaposing what we think we see and what we discover to be true. Beagin is insightful, funny, and generous to all her kind- and hard-hearted characters, and this promising debut novel assures us of the great healing power of art—even when we think we aren’t under the weather.

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