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Jen Beagin Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

Pretend I'm Dead (2015) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
Vacuum in the Dark (2019) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle

Jen Beagin is an American author of fiction and contemporary novels. She is best known for her two standalones, Vacuum in the Dark and Pretend I’m Dead. Beagin holds masters in fine arts in creative writing from the University of California. In 2017 she won Whiting Award in Fiction. She is a resident of Hudson, New York.

Pretend I’m Dead

In Jen Beagin’s debut novel, we meet Mona, a volunteer in a needle exchange program in her twenties. Her father Mickey is a deadbeat, and so she is the only stability she has in her own life. She has brains but no particular drive; she is a hard worker but has no direction. When she informs her friends that she’s a house cleaner, they all assume that she has some side hustle she is working towards because white girls don’t clean houses.

The story follows Mona over several years, focusing on four different relationships and how they affected the direction of her life.

First in the relationships is Mr. Disgusting, a middle-aged man to who she supplies needles. Mona begins a friendship because he’s a decent man. He informs her to relocate from Massachusetts to Taos in New Mexico. So she sets off, with the three remaining relations focusing on her relationship with her neighbors Shiori and Nigel and then a businessman named Henry and a final one with a psychic named Betty.

The four different relationships allow the main character to grow in very different ways and unexpected directions. And behind everything, there is a broken relationship with her father.

What makes Pretend I’m Dead a charming story is the heroine’s charm. While she is naive, she is not stupid. She is aware of people’s deviousness and failings, and she chooses not to get involved. As a cleaner, she witnesses people’s secrets and could use these secrets for good or evil but instead chooses not to. Additionally, Mona has a strong sense of personal morality, and she’ll happily do things that are against her best interests when she thinks they are the right things to do. She views the world in a mixture of resignation and astonishment.

But it’s important to note that the story uses strong language- but what would you expect from a story that starts in a needle exchange clinic? The pace soon picks up moving towards some sorts of revelation were Mona purges her demons.

Vacuum in the Dark

While her folks were busy destroying their marriage, she would spend 3-4 days a week with her paternal grandfather, a mild-mannered man, a functional alcoholic and an avid reader. But the old man taught her all the important things in life, how to take good photographs, spit like a man, make a stiff drink, how to play dumb, drive stick and swim butterfly.

Mona’s voice is entertaining. In Pretend I’m Dead, it was all about her love for Mr. Disgusting. She strongly remains messy, and at the same time keeps her cracks just like we all do and she is not going to transform into the ideal human because she has everything sorted out.

Does anyone ever do this in real life- such that wherever you go, you’re still you whether you have gained wisdom or not. Now Mr. Disgusting is out what does she do next? She takes up a married man Dark. Still working as a cleaner, she spends her days reading the letters the married man leaves behind during her cleaning days. The daze their lovemaking put her in vanishes when Rose, Dark’s wife informs her about the state of their marriage.

Soon Mona meets cats owned by the Hungarian couples Kosas. The cats are exotic as Paul and Lena, two artists with a house that feels like a man waiting to be explored by Mona. She does explore the house, making her own art, and taking some photographs. It’s in this second novel that we get to learn more about Mona’s past.

Nigel and Shiori are still telling her to remain curious, and she isn’t curious enough about her past, and she would rather leave whatever is hiding in the dark untouched. Paul and Lena also persuade her to pose nudes for them, but it’s how Lena helps Mona to feel unworried enough to “bare” herself to connect them as much as Lena’s stories.

Then there are the pills, but that’s not a big deal. Additionally, Lena can mentor her to find the true meaning behind her photos which all tell a story that she hadn’t understood until Lena’s attention to details eye comes along.

Lena is called for work and leaves Mona to pose for Paul. Mona discovers through Paul that Lena hasn’t been open as she seems. There is something special about Mona that made Lena pull her into their cunny world. Paul demands so much from her and soon begins to feel wrong. The couple serves as a catalyst making her think deeply about her strong beliefs about relationships have always been skewed making her play the villain role in her relationships.

She receives a phone call from her biological mother requesting her to travel to Los Angeles to collect the boxes she has kept. Returning feels like reverting and her mother seem to have “gone to the birds. Mental illness, drug abuse, and all sorts of trouble seem to run through her family genetics, but things can change for the good, people can change and face their pain. Is it not too late for a mother to assume their rightful role in a person’s life- right?
For Mona, it’s compassion that makes her shed tears, and her tough stepfather may surprise her just like her reformed mother. Fate leads her to Kurt and Bakersfield, but since old behaviors never change, Mona still fails to do the good thing for herself and at times figures everything too late. While she likes to chase her own tail, in the end, she might find the right direction and clarity.

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