Sunday, June 20, 2021

"The Portrait of a Mirror"

A. Natasha Joukovsky holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia and an MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business. She spent five years in the art world, working at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York before pivoting into management consulting. The Portrait of a Mirror is her debut novel. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Joukovsky applied the Page 69 Test to The Portrait of a Mirror and reported the following:
Page 69 of The Portrait of a Mirror marks the opening of Chapter VIII. It is a roundly complete one: two paragraphs, no jagged, mid-sentence cutoff between pages; a self-contained little slice of the novel to evaluate. It begins:
In retrospect Vivien would develop a clear explanation for herself as to why it happened, how many (many) years of resisting what she wanted to do in favor of what she wanted to have done had, far from building up a tolerance, reached some kind of maximum capacity in her, some outer-bound limit to human restraint. It wasn’t a departure from her character, she came to believe, but rather an inevitability precisely because of her character: her over saturation in the present perfect tense had left her perversely, cruelly vulnerable in the face of a perfect present. And Julian hadn’t helped.
At this point in the novel, the reader does not yet know the “it” that has “happened” to Vivien, and the first paragraph provides a remarkably fitting introduction. Its psychological focus, complex sentence structure, and narrative tone are all representative of the lion share of the book, as is the self-referential joke about grammar. The “many (many)” construct specifically is even an echo from the novel’s actual introduction—from its very first page. This parallel continues into the second paragraph:
Sill Mill gossip notwithstanding, Vivien had never really pictured Wesley Range as a tech CEO. Her impression of him was built on the kind of emotional truth impervious to fact, and she could only conceive of his adulthood as the creative class ideal: an endless extension of ultra-privileged adolescence, of ambiguous job but definitive lifestyle. He’d be perpetually at the epicenter of the universe, conspicuously at leisure whatever the season. Summers in Nantucket that rounded into a Telluride September. Autumnal New England culminating in a traditional Connecticut Christmas before skiing in Adelboden or Chamonix. A ‘real’ vacation in January or February—St. Barths or Nevis, something remote and lush and invariably involving a yacht. There’d be at least one extended, more exotic self-discovery sort of sojourn each year: Rajasthan, Machu Picchu, Marakech ... By Vivien’s intuitive calendrical expectations, Wes should have been in Cannes this week.
This too is reminiscent of the novel’s actual beginning, which likewise introduces Wes, but from the narrator’s direct perspective as opposed to indirectly, as it is here, through Vivien’s. The Portrait of a Mirror is all about indirect social inference and evaluation, about rumor and perspective, and if anything Vivien’s illusory impression of Wes’s existence provides a better snapshot of the novel than his actual circumstances. In this sense, I’d say the page 69 test largely succeeds. If you enjoy the mode of observation presented in these two paragraphs, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy the novel as a whole.

What the page 69 test fails to fully capture is the novel’s humor, which surfaces most acutely in dialogue, and the extent of its referentiality—there’s one allusion here to Thorstein Veblen’s concept of “conspicuous leisure,” but the page is otherwise original. The test’s biggest miss, however, is of the book’s intermittent alternative format chapters. These range from emails and text messages to Wikipedia entries and Instagram, and infuse some levity and literal negative space into the novel, a counterweight to the density of its narrative prose.
Visit A. Natasha Joukovsky's website.

--Marshal Zeringue