"Finally a book that exposes how dull Occam’s Razor has become after all these years. Adroitly crafted, The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a fun, urbane look at the faulty heuristics of perception and authenticity. Proof positive that in the age of Photoshop and Trumpian Denialism, the simplest explanation no longer applies." Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout
"The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a resonant and uncanny novel, a moving meditation on “how casually one version of reality detaches from the truth; it peels away naturally, like damp wallpaper in a neglected room.” Jessi Jezewska Stevens is a promising, persuasive new writer, and I will be surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be one of the strongest debut novels of 2020." Justin Taylor, Bookforum
"Jessi Jezewska Stevens's The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a captivating portrait of urban solitude, by turns strange, poignant, and poetic." Chloe Aridjis, author of Sea Monsters
"The Exhibition of Persephone Q has the heart of a Hitchcock film. With a voice both riveting and wisely bizarre, Jessi Jezewska Stevens tells a timeless story of the battle to stop the present from turning into the past." Catherine Lacey, author of Nobody Is Ever Missing
"The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a great millennial ghost story, in which a wry, wise, yet guileless heroine is haunted by all the other stories she could be living. Jessi Stevens is the Muriel Spark of 21st century New York." Joshua Cohen, author of Book of Numbers
"With a voice both lucid and searching, Jessi Stevens depicts the great illogic of love, as well as all the small, strange quiddities of being a body in a material and virtual world. Lit up with melancholy, humor, and perfect oddness, this remarkable debut casts an afterglow long after its final pages." Hermione Hoby, author of Neon in Daylight
"Brimming with wit, intricately and playfully observed, The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a marvel, a treat, a mystery rooted in the unquestioned and unquestionable substance of identity. Stevens announces herself as a bold, surprising, and utterly compelling voice, with a slant on the world that is entirely her own." Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body like Mine
"Stevens's striking, unique debut explores the increasing alienation a young woman feels as eerie phenomena creep into her life . . . Stevens is a talented writer, and her debut is a propulsive experience." Publishers Weekly
"Stevens' debut is a compelling and visually rich novel that explores alienation in all its forms. The book’s poetic language and realistically absurd characters will keep readers intrigued until the final page." Leah von Essen, Booklist
"Stevens' dreamlike first novel is a delicate and drifting exploration of Percy's relationships with friends, lovers, neighbors, and the many not-quite strangers who form the fabric of city life. As Percy wanders, New York itself is reflected through the prism of her many identities . . . in luminous prose that captures the essence of a place in the middle of its most defining transformation. A stellar debut." Kirkus Reviews (starred)
DEBUT In this puzzling debut novel, Percy is a woman trapped by her own passivity, a woman whose identity has been defined primarily by her relationship to men. She's married to Misha, but the arrival of an exhibition catalog of photographs by her former fiancé disrupts her insular world. All of the photographs in the collection are of a nude woman, Persephone Q, and Percy suspects that she is that woman. Aimless, directionless, and unsure, Percy wanders Manhattan fretting about her marriage, her unexpected pregnancy, and what she should do about the photographs. Can she prove she is Persephone Q? Should she tell Misha she is pregnant? Percy's internal monolog travels with her, but despite her many references to Web 1.0, such as Earthlink, AOL, Napster, and, inexplicably, Boolean logic, it doesn't feel like the early 2000s it's said to be. VERDICT Percy's perspective is so limited and her world so small that readers who don't identify with her may lose patience. This book's primary audience will be those interested in the ruminations of an insecure young woman trying to find her way in the world.—Pamela Mann, St. Mary's Coll. Lib., MD
A young woman wanders the nighttime streets of post-9/11 New York in search of answers to the mysterious disappearance of herself.
One night, Persephone Q, or Percy for short, wakes up to find she no longer recognizes her husband. The man beside her is definitely Misha—her new husband, whom she'd married in the heady rush just after the Sept. 11 attacks, despite having known him for only four months—but it seems to Percy as if he has aged a whole decade overnight, leaving her behind. What's worse, her response to Misha's sudden unfamiliarity is "a small and violent impulse" to pinch his airways shut. Bewildered by her own behavior and pregnant with a baby she cannot seem to tell her husband about, Percy launches herself into the equally bewildered streets of a city in which posters for those still missing from the World Trade Center attacks "cropped up in bursts, like desperate plants, clambering over telephone poles, the entrances to trains, fences…." In the midst of Percy's increasingly insomniac wanderings comes a mysterious package advertising the gallery opening for an exhibition of Percy's ex-fiance's photographs. The exhibition, entitled The Exhibition of Persephone Q, opened the day after the attacks and features image after image of a nude woman asleep in a red room in which, as the photographs progress, familiar domestic objects are replaced by creeping moss or tangled tree limbs and the skyline of the city outside is altered or erased. It is clear to Percy that the unnamed woman in the photographs is herself and the red bedroom is the one she used to live in when she and her ex-fiance were still engaged, yet no one—perhaps not even she—can see the resemblance. What follows in Stevens' dreamlike first novel is a delicate and drifting exploration of Percy's relationships with friends, lovers, neighbors, and the many not-quite strangers who form the fabric of city life. As Percy wanders, New York itself is reflected through the prism of her many identities—"The woman [she] was with Misha, a wife who loved her husband and yet tried to kill him all the same…the woman in the pictures, peaceful and asleep, albeit a little bit dead; also a mother; a daughter; a somnambulist who could not sleep"—in luminous prose that captures the essence of a place in the middle of its most defining transformation.
A stellar debut.