cover image The Exhibition of Persephone Q

The Exhibition of Persephone Q

Jessi Jezewska Stevens. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-15092-1

Stevens’s striking, unique debut explores the increasing alienation a young woman feels as eerie phenomena creep into her life. In Manhattan, just weeks after 9/11, Percy, a freelance copy-writer, discovers that she’s pregnant. She feels unable to tell her new husband, Misha, who suddenly feels like a stranger to her. To her horror, she repeatedly tries to cut off Misha’s breathing while he sleeps by squeezing his nostrils shut, then stops herself. Meanwhile, her apartment building is filled with complications—a neighbor and self-help author she works for keeps inviting her to poetry readings; the cartoonist next door has vanished without a trace. Percy’s strange feelings come to a head when a package arrives containing a book of photographs from a gallery exhibition downtown. The photos are all of a nude woman on a bed, with digital modifications removing aspects of the image. Percy realizes that the exhibition is of work by her former fiancé—and the photos are of her, 10 years earlier. But when she tries to get them taken down at the gallery, no one believes the images are of her, and the line between reality and fantasy threatens to overwhelm her. The 9/11 aspect is unnecessary, but the plot is often fascinating and the reader will race to the end to figure out what, exactly, will happen to Percy. Stevens is a talented writer, and her debut is a propulsive experience. (Feb.)