We learn the story of Jimena, Liselle’s “assistant”, who is supposed to help with the party but sends her daughter, Xochitl, instead. Liselle cannot pronounce Xochitl’s name and feels uncomfortable ordering the young woman – a doctorate. student and immigration rights activist – to thaw mushroom tarts. Besides, she also feels uncomfortable paying Jimena, an old woman with damaged knees, to clean her bathroom and load her dishwasher. Contemplating the employees, she introduces herself as “the black mistress of a small plantation” or “wearing a hoop skirt and waving her lace fan in Xochitl, across a gulf, on the wrong side of the sea. ‘story”. Again, Liselle doesn’t want to clean the bathroom herself.
Her thoughts always come back to Selena. Where Liselle has risen through the socio-economic ranks and now plays the gracious hostess to Winn’s “threatening and boring” attorneys, Selena lives with her mother and has two jobs. She is wearing a ragged sweatshirt. Her boss at a job tells her that she is “a 3-D black person trying to fit into a 2-D box”. Its main duty is to maintain chemical stability; her routine consists of work, medication, therapy, peppermint tea, sleep, rehearsal. When Liselle calls and leaves a message for Selena’s mother, Selena’s carefully tended balance is shattered.
A recurring theme in the novel is the misidentification of Liselle, both by others and by herself. No one can get their name correctly. Some people call it “Liesl” and others “Lysol”; her stepmother goes with “Lisa” while her stepmother, a little closer to the goal, lands on “Lisette”. The very question that elicits the phone call is whether Liselle, when she gave up on Selena, gave up the possibility of being recognized for good. As a young woman, she dated girls and read Audre Lorde and made a reputation for herself as an icy seductress. At 41, she is afraid of her mother, annoyed by her friends, unsure of her thinning hair. Worse yet, she has adopted the politician’s habit of referring to people as “people”.
Liselle’s call to Selena happens in the first few pages of the book, just before dinner begins, that is, we meet our protagonist at the precise moment when his Potemkin life becomes intolerable. What exactly the gesture triggers is revealed during a novel so concise that it reminded me of one of those wrinkle-free travel dresses that magically extend from a folded cube to wearable garment. Solomon’s novel is a feat of engineering. It’s also a reverie, a riff on “Mrs. Dalloway ”and a love story. In Liselle, Salomon invented a character that comes to mind in HD, with anxieties, jokes, memories, fury and survival instincts all present in prose as clear as water.