February 2011
A review of

The Autobiography of Jenny X

by Lisa Dierbeck

Central question: Will the past always catch up with us?
Partial list of hiding places employed: apple crate, attic, bathroom, brush (vegetation), coat lining, desk, fist, gun, hanging file, safe house, shed, six-bedroom Victorian; Venture that this novel inaugurates: Mischief + Mayhem publishing collective, an imprint of OR Books; Partial list of supplies needed to stage novel’s central performance piece: Aktion mask, beer, burlap sack, dinner bell, draft card, finger paint, M19 revolver (unloaded), ostrich plume, razor blade, rose petals, votive candles; Representative sentence: “The Aktion was conceived as a series of spontaneous, unpredictable events and its true, unstated purpose was to test the audience.”

The “Bond Street Aktionists” of Lisa Dierbeck’s second novel, The Autobiography of Jenny X, are a group of self-styled “radical peace activists” led by Christopher Benedict, a child of privilege turned drug dealer, who believes in “art as a transgression” as a “profound visceral experience.” It’s an attractive stance to his fifteen-year-old girlfriend, Jenny, whom he picked up at the Second Chance Society charity for inner-city girls, but not one that seems borne out by the art they produce. The group’s most notable “aktion,” a touring piece called “A Wanted Man,” a derivative and rather banal happening of the old school, does finally live up to this vision, but only accidentally.

A staging goes violently awry when Christopher allows a maimed, mentally ill female army veteran to participate. As a result, Christopher is sent to jail, and Jenny reinvents herself as Nadia Larini, wealthy heir to displaced white Russians. When Christopher is released twenty years later, he finds himself in an unrecognizable world of iPads and McMansions, and no one gives a damn about the Aktionists. Nadia, meanwhile, leads a life of bourgeois privilege, with three children and a doctor husband.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Mark Doten

Mark Doten is an editor at Soho Press. His fiction has appeared in Conjunctions, Guernica, and the Collagist.

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