cover image Acts of Desperation

Acts of Desperation

Megan Nolan. Little, Brown, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-316-42984-9

Vice contributor Nolan deconstructs a young couple’s toxic relationship in her fierce and intelligent debut. Things open with an unnamed young woman catching sight of Ciaran, an art critic and “the most beautiful man [she] had ever seen,” at a Dublin art gallery in 2012. She appreciates how Ciaran seems “undeniably whole” amid a crowd of shallow social climbers. The narrator then describes their subsequent spiral into a torturous, obsessive romance. She’s in her early 20s, a university dropout and aspiring poet who works in a restaurant and parties a lot. Ciaran, meanwhile, is passive-aggressive, insults the narrator’s friends, makes cruel remarks (“Did you want me to say I’m falling in love with you? Because I’m not”), and carries on an ambiguous relationship with his ex. The narrator and Ciaran eventually break up, only to get back together a few months later and move in together. An idyllic glow surrounds them, until the narrator begins pushing Ciaran’s boundaries, and things devolve. The story is intercut with dispatches from 2019 Athens, where the narrator tries to move toward a future without Ciaran while reflecting on the nature of vulnerability, self-loathing, and her addiction to love with stark frankness. The narrator is remarkable for her complete lack of self-pity and unflinching depictions of her own motives and needs. This mesmerizes from the first page. Agent: Harriet Moore, David Higham Assoc. (Mar.)