cover image Vapor


Amanda Filipacchi. Carroll & Graf Publishers, $22.95 (320pp) ISBN 978-0-7867-0617-4

This cruelly inventive, mercilessly witty and outrageous second novel skewers the Pygmalion myth with barbs at modern neurosis, celebrity, greed and obsession. Filipacchi (Nude Men) plunges her heroine into a surreal trajectory from drama school failure to Oscar winner, satirizing the American dream every step of the way. Anna Graham, 27, passes time piercing ears, making copies at a Xerox shop, attending acting classes and thinking up ways to punish herself. That is, until the night when, dressed as the Good Fairy, she rushes onto the subway tracks to save the life of an eccentric scientific researcher named Damon Wetly, who repays her by making her fondest wish--to become a famous actress--come true. Wetly plays Higgins to Anna's Eliza, teaching her to walk, talk, eat and think. To ensure Anna's commitment to his bizarre techniques, he holds her hostage in a cage, pelting her with ice bullets when she misbehaves and treating her to gifts and games as she makes progress. The brilliantly bizarre inverted logic of this relationship echoes elsewhere in Anna's life: when she herself is rescued from rapists, she dates her hero, who turns out to be quite a catch: a cosmetic surgeon, etiquette expert, cellist, Weight Watcher's counselor and male stripper. But Anna's metamorphosis and identity is bound, literally and irrefutably, with Damon. Filipacchi shrewdly juxtaposes human actions with contrasting desires, pitting social aspirations against antisocial ones. She quickly launches from the mundane (Anna's acting coach suggesting she give up acting) to the insane (then suggesting she give up her name to a promising actress who could make better use of it) fueled by clever language and merciless insight. Her novel showcases a prodigious postfeminist talent. Her energetic originality never falters and her unforgiving eye for the fluidity of human weakness never blinks. (May) FYI: Not to be confused with Vapors, by Wes DeMott, reviewed on March 15.