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Narcissus Ascending

McKinnon, Karen

34 ratings by Goodreads
ISBN 10: 0312290586 / ISBN 13: 9780312290580
Published by Picador USA, New York, New York, U.S.A., 2002
Used Condition: Very Good+ Hardcover
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Hard Cover. First Edition. Fine in slightly dusty, otherwise fine dj. No chips, no tears, not price-clipped. No remainder markings. Bookseller Inventory # 005693

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Narcissus Ascending

Publisher: Picador USA, New York, New York, U.S.A.

Publication Date: 2002

Binding: Hardcover

Book Condition:Very Good+

Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good+

Edition: First Edition

About this title


Becky, Hugh, Dahlia, and Max. Friends who have formed a dysfunctional but necessary surrogate family. Callie, the crisis-prone, vivid, manipulative chameleon whose friendship has damaged them all individually but who still haunts their waking and sleeping dreams.

Becky, orphan, survivor, caffeine addict, on the verge of 30 and hoping to become famous with her first solo show of dismemberment collages in New York’s East Village. Hugh, now a CPA in California, once the most sophisticated undergrad and object of Becky’s frustrated desire and rivalry with Callie. Max, all leather, brooding and disguise, the actor who Callie left Hugh for, and who also had an affair with big-hearted, victimized dancer, Dahlia.

For as long as they have known each other theircommon language has been Callie—past tense. When Dahlia plots a revenge drama to be staged at Becky’s gallery opening, she unwittingly revives their nostalgia for the outcast Callie’s seductive charm and sets in motion a plan that forces Becky and Callie to play out their lethalemotional rivalry to the end. Told from the point of view of Becky, Narcissus Ascending is an unputdownable debut. Karen McKinnon’s dissection of friendship, and the manipulative rivalry of two strong women is provocative and disturbing.


Narcissus Ascending comes to us with exquisite references from uncompromisingly literary writers like Margot Livesey, Andrea Barrett, and Claire Messud. And Karen McKinnon's debut is literary: she is working with Big Themes like art and friendship and victimhood. But while her themes are big, her characters are dispiritingly small. Her story is cinematic in its simplicity. As narrator Becky prepares for her first art show at a downtown gallery, she and her three annoyingly petty, self-involved best friends are haunted by a woman named Callie, a drama queen who has, one way or another, burned the lot of them. They hatch a plan to invite Callie to the opening and confront her with her sins. The elegant plainness of the plot is countered by McKinnon's wildly mannered writing. The gallery is

a gleaming oasis propping up a stillscuzzy favorite kind of space, whitepainted brick walls, whitewashed woodslatted floors, lots of light streaming in, good visibility from the street to snag the walkins, the furs from Jersey who slum it on Saturday afternoons, while it's still light out, still safe.
The entire book is written in this aggressively jejune, poetical tone; it seems to be written by, for, and about the extremely young. This is not necessarily a bad thing, just a very limited thing. The title is meant to describe both Callie and the narrator; in the end, it seems to describe this entire navel-gazing project. --Claire Dederer

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