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The Exhibition of Persephone Q by Jessi Jezewska Stevens


Percy is pregnant. She hasn’t told a soul. Probably she should tell her husband—certainly she means to—but one night she wakes up to find she no longer recognizes him. Now, instead of sleeping, Percy is spending her nights taking walks through her neighborhood, all the while fretting over her marriage, her impending motherhood, and the sinister ways the city is changing.

Amid this alienation—from her husband, home, and rapidly changing body—a package arrives. In it: an exhibition catalog for a photography show. The photographs consist of a series of digitally manipulated images of a woman lying on a bed in a red room. It takes a moment for even Percy to notice that the woman is herself . . . but no one else sees the resemblance.

Percy must now come to grips with the fundamental question of identity in the digital age: To what extent do we own our own image, and to what extent is that image shaped by the eyes of others?

Capturing perfectly the haunted atmosphere of Manhattan immediately after 9/11—and the simmering insanity of America ever since—Jessi Jezewska Stevens’s The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a darkly witty satire about how easy it is to lose ownership of our own selves.

Praise for The Exhibition of Persephone Q

“A triumph of tone and intelligence. Percy Q’s perspective is skewed and searching at once, and through her eyes, we see afresh not only New York’s post-9/11 landscape but also the world of art, and love, and the process of becoming.”
—Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances

“Finally a book that exposes how dull Occam’s Razor has become after all these years. Adroitly crafted, The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a fun, urbane look at the faulty heuristics of perception and authenticity. Proof positive that in the age of Photoshop and Trumpian Denialism, the simplest explanation no longer applies.”
—Paul Beatty, author of The Sellout

“The Exhibition of Persephone Q has the heart of a Hitchcock film. With a voice both riveting and wisely bizarre,Jessi Jezewska Stevens tells a timeless story of the battle to stop the present from turning into the past.”
—Catherine Lacey, author of Nobody is Ever Missing

“Brimming with wit, intricately and playfully observed, The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a marvel, a treat, a mystery rooted in the unquestioned and unquestionable substance of identity. Stevens announces herself as a bold, surprising, and utterly compelling voice, with a slant on the world that is entirely her own.”
—Alexandra Kleeman, author of You Too Can Have a Body like Mine

Jessi Jezewska Stevens holds a BA in mathematics from Middlebury College and an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Her stories and essays have appeared in The Paris Review, Tin House, Guernica, BOMB, and elsewhere. She lives in New York, where she teaches fiction.

Jessi Jezewska Stevens Recommends: The Collected Stories, by Grace Paley

There are a number of stunners in Grace Paley’s collected stories, but two lines from “Wants,” a short-short about a woman who runs into her ex-husband at the library, would alone justify its reputation as a classic: “He had had a habit,” our narrator says, “during twenty-seven years of marriage, of making a narrow remark which, like a plumber’s snake, could work its way through the ear down the throat, halfway to my heart. He would then disappear, leaving me choking with equipment.” If an onomatopoeia is a word that sounds like what it means, what do we call a sentence that makes you feel what it says? 

I often teach “Wants” as an exercise in first-person voice. On the table: What effect does the “I” seem, self-consciously, to be trying to project? For every admission, how much is denied? Outside the classroom, I most love “Wants” for the way it embraces fiction’s capacity for moral ambiguity—here is a story where loyalties shift with every reading. It’s easy to side at first with the affectedly guileless narrator, a jilted wife who takes eighteen years to return two Edith Wharton novels, only to immediately check them out again. But on second, third, and subsequent reads, one begins to wonder if she wasn’t truly impossible to be with after all. Her husband wanted a sailboat, he wanted to invite the Bertrams to dinner. He had so many specific wishes that went unfilled. “You’ll always want nothing,” he accuses his wife. To want for nothing may be a sin in love. Is there anything more frustrating than falling for someone who needs nothing from you at all?

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is widely recognized as one of today's most influential publishers of literary fiction and poetry. FSG is renowned for its international list of authors, who have won extraordinary acclaim over the years, including numerous National Book Awards, Pulitzer Prizes, and twenty-two Nobel Prizes in literature. Dare to Imagine is a year-long celebration of fiction and poetry.
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