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Vacuum in the Dark

Review

Vacuum in the Dark

Twenty-six-year-old Mona is a housekeeper in Taos, New Mexico. She arrived in that high desert city with her junkie boyfriend, who she refers to only as Mr. Disgusting, but now she is on her own. Though her line of work is not particularly lucrative or intellectual, it does have its benefits. Mona doesn’t mind the solitude, takes pride in spot removal and appreciates a powerful vacuum. Her time in other people’s houses also allows her the chance to work on an ongoing secret photography project wherein she dresses in her employer’s clothing and poses with their belongings. The work, however, is not without its perils: Mona is often pulled into the orbit of needy, unhealthy or predatory people, and she has a difficult time resisting their advances, both emotionally and physically.

VACUUM IN THE DARK by Jen Beagin is sharp, sexy and sad. It follows Mona as she enters and exits homes and relationships, haunted by her past and propelled by possibility, all the while chatting with her imaginary friend, Terry Gross of “Fresh Air” fame.

"VACUUM IN THE DARK is wacky, wicked and funny on the surface but roiling below with danger and deep seriousness. Beagin’s writing style is breezy and light, and Mona is delightful and witty."

Mona has a hard time forgetting the man she dubs Dark (because of his “dark spark”) after a brief flirtation in a bookstore. When she meets him again, months later, it turns out he is married to one of her newest clients, a compelling and beautiful blind woman named Rose. With Rose’s knowledge, Mona and Dark (actual name: Philip) begin an affair. But its intensity is fraught, and for Mona it brings up much trauma, leaving her vulnerable. She also finds herself brought into the relationship of artists Lena and Paul, acting as their muse. However, once again, as she opens herself up to their influence and affection, she begins to realize how unhealthy and predacious they really are. For readers, Mona’s harmful patterns become clear early on, though much of this short novel is moving her toward the same realization.

A trip home to spend time with her sort of estranged mother and stepfather in California stirs up even more memories. But Mona’s old habits die hard, and after sneaking into a neighbor’s apartment to snoop around, she finds herself in a relationship with the tenet, Kurt --- a safe (if dull) partner --- running a seedy roadside motel. She is hoping to settle down in a more conventional and stable relationship, but Dark, and some proverbial darkness, lingers. Every personal connection, affair and link that Mona has is charged with risk, uncertainty, even menace. As readers get to know her more, they learn just how much she has been through and how unprotected she has been since childhood. That doesn’t mean that Beagin doesn’t allow Mona (or readers) moments of joy and pleasure.

VACUUM IN THE DARK is wacky, wicked and funny on the surface but roiling below with danger and deep seriousness. Beagin’s writing style is breezy and light, and Mona is delightful and witty. This makes for enjoyable reading but ensures that the punches the book packs are hard-driving and always on target. Mona is refreshingly honest and heartbreakingly hurt. Beagin allows her protagonist to be strange and charming, sexual and smart, even as she forces Mona to confront pain, loss and uncertainty. This is a very good, original and human-hearted novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on March 1, 2019

Vacuum in the Dark
by Jen Beagin

  • Publication Date: February 26, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Humor, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • ISBN-10: 1501182145
  • ISBN-13: 9781501182143