Vacuum in the Dark, by Jen Beagin

Trigger warning for rape.

Mona’s adventures as a house cleaner, secret photographer, and occasional sufferer from recovered memories and mental illness continue in Vacuum in the Dark, by Jen Beagin. I had previously been hooked by her quirky life and perspective in Pretend I’m Dead. Mona’s journey continues some time after the end of that book, at a time when things are not going quite as smoothly as they had been. She’s talking to a new imaginary friend( a version of the journalist Terry Gross) and she seems to have come to terms with some of her terrible past. Unfortunately, new memories are surfacing and her house-cleaning clients have dropped off.

In Pretend I’m Dead, Mona was primarily dealing with memories with her awful, incestuous father and her continued troubled relationships with men. This time around, Mona still has troubled relationships with men, but she’s dealing with her self-absorbed, co-dependent mother. In the first book, I wondered where Mona’s mother has been all that time. Why wasn’t she protecting her daughter? Now I know. Mona’s mother, who she insists on calling Clare (even though that’s not her name), is deeply attached to a California man with a weird fetish for art that depicts Native Americans (not to be confused with Native American art). Oddly enough, he’s one of the most normal men in Mona’s life. And, considering the parade of freakish and/or creepy men in Mona’s orbit, she definitely needs some normal.

Vacuum in the Dark didn’t capture my sympathy as much as the first book in the series, although I found it impossible to put the book down. I just had to know what happened next. The tone of this book is a little bit darker, a little less magical than in Pretend I’m Dead. The ending left me with mixed feelings. That said, readers who are interested in psychological portraits of people who have untreated mental illnesses will get a lot out of this book; Mona makes some very interesting (in a clinical sense) choices in this book that I would love to pick apart with someone who has more than a semester of psychology under their belt.

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