If Mona Boyle were the type of girl to write a résumé, there’s a lot she could put on it: nude model, rogue photographer, wayward maid, romancer of impossible men. Mostly, though, she prefers to live without labels, or what most people might call “a path.” Fresh off a doomed love affair with the erstwhile junkie Mr. Disgusting, the singular heroine of Jen Beagin’s cult debut Pretend I’m Dead returns. Now 26 and resettled in Taos, N.M., she gets by cleaning houses for a veritable piñata of weirdos, from a swinging pair of middle-aged Hungarians to a beautiful blind therapist still in love with her own father and a bearded coffin-maker whose knuckle tattoos read “MORE LOVE” and whose sexual energy makes Mona swoon.
Scrubbing toilets isn’t exactly a passion, but Mona does find ways to pass the time. When she’s not talking to her imaginary best friend, NPR host Terry Gross, or attending to her clients’ literal and metaphysical dirt, she’s taking furtive self-portraits in their homes, draped over their chaises and wearing their clothes. Beagin’s storytelling runs episodic and almost willfully odd — like a Jim Jarmusch movie dipped in Windex and adobe dust. But there’s light in the darkness too, and some true eccentric soul in her Vacuum. B+
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