cover image Chrysalis


Anna Metcalfe. Random House, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-593-44695-9

Metcalfe’s perceptive if opaque debut follows a young woman’s rise to becoming a wellness influencer after she leaves an abusive relationship. The unnamed influencer’s mother, Bella, recounts her daughter’s solitary childhood, and the uncontrollable and unexplainable shakes that made her the target of bullies. Another section is narrated by the influencer’s friend Susie, who takes her in after her breakup with Paul, who she claims kept her locked in a room. A third comes from Elliot, who met the influencer at the gym and briefly became her lover before she disappeared from his life, after which he followed her videos of extreme workouts and long bouts of stillness and took up her mandated isolation from everyone in his life. As the influencer’s “Still Life” routine gains prominence, she becomes a cultlike figure and the center of controversy after despairing family members can’t reach their loved ones who joined the movement. Bella and Paul, meanwhile, provide conflicting accounts of Paul and the influencer’s relationship compared to what she told Susie. The competing versions make for an intriguing exercise in narrative, but they also leave the reader baffled. Still, there are plenty of well-placed barbs on influencer culture (another influencer, one who gave the protagonist an early boost, posts videos of herself “wiping gem stones over her cheekbones”). Despite an uneven first outing, Metcalfe clearly has her finger on the pulse of internet culture and its habitués. Agent: Nicola Chang, David Higham Assoc. (Apr.)