cover image Other People’s Clothes

Other People’s Clothes

Calla Henkel. Doubleday, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-54735-2

Henkel’s engrossing debut stages a cat and mouse game between a novelist and two art students in which art bleeds (literally and profusely) into life and vice versa. In 2008, NYU art student Zoe travels to Berlin for a year abroad in search of European “dignity and reason” after her friend, Ivy, is murdered. She will find neither. Zoe’s Berlin roommate and classmate is Hailey, a conceptual artist obsessed with Law and Order SVU and Amanda Knox (that “sexed-up Joan of Arc”), and bent on achieving Warholian fame. They rent the apartment of bestselling pulp novelist Beatrice Becks. With Berlin’s “hedonistic wells still running deep,” Zoe and Hailey embrace the drug-fueled spectacle, meeting pretentious art world habitués, Habsburg descendants, and louche seducers who deliver lines like “I collect experiences and handblown glass, but my dad bought Richter early.” Soon Zoey and Hailey suspect Beatrice is reading their diaries and emails for plot material, and Hailey, petrified of them being “immortalized as losers,” conspires with Zoe to gin up drama. But as Beatrice’s interventions intensify and Hailey seeks to exploit Ivy’s tragic death for fame, Hailey and Zoe’s friendship and lives are jeopardized. The antics grow increasingly outlandish, but Henkel shines with her wry, well-observed portrait of the artist. In the end, this offers an intelligent dissection of the insatiable appetite for dead girl stories. (Feb.)