Vacuum in the Dark

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 26 Feb 2019

Member Reviews

I'm afraid that I might have been just the wrong reader for this book. I'm not a fan of a lot of graphic content and descriptions of bodily habits - and this book was filled with that stuff! I got so distracted by this element that I had a hard time focusing on anything else. The story is broken into four sections and follows Mona, a young woman in her 20's who works as a cleaning lady in New Mexico. She gets involved with a lot of strange characters, hooks up with many of them, and has an imaginary friend (NPR's Terry Gross). Although I appreciate Beagin's dark humor and her quirky characters, I couldn't find anything I actually liked - plot, story structure, etc. I'm sure there's an audience that will truly 'get' Beagin's weirdness, but I just don't think her work is for me.
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Mona is still cleaning houses in Taos, New Mexico, where she moved after her boyfriend Mr. Disgusting died.
She has some new clients and a new boyfriend, Dark. He is married to a blind woman who is also a client.
Mona is struggling with her mental health and getting her life together.
As she cleans, she talks to her friend Terry, of NPR, a voice in her head. 
When she breaks it off with Dark, she decides to take a trip home to Los Angeles. Her mom and longtime boyfriend are getting married and they want Mona to give a toast at the wedding.
While she's visiting there, she meets and becomes attached to a neighbor, bonding during a minor earthquake. 
After repairing her relationship with her mom and stepfather, she takes off with the neighbor on a quest to find happiness. But then Dark comes back into the picture...
This is a sequel to Pretend I'm Dead. It actually made me laugh out loud at times! Another dark, funny and entertaining story by Jen Beagin.
Mona is an endearing, wounded, eccentric character, trying to make a place for herself.
I hope her journey continues.
Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for the free ebook in exchange for an honest review.
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It's hard to sum up my thoughts on Vaccuum in the Dark, but it's a quirky, highly unconventional look into one woman's voice. While the protagonist may not be exactly relatable, the emotions and situations she finds herself (or puts herself in) are universal.
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Published by Scribner on February 26, 2019

Mona Boyle, the beleaguered cleaning lady from Pretend I’m Dead, returns in Vacuum in the Dark. Someone is leaving hidden poops in one of the houses she cleans. That’s Mona’s life in a nutshell. Mona has an affinity for certain vacuum cleaners and an obsession with cleanliness that is probably symbolic of an unfulfilled desire to clean up her messy life.

The new imaginary companion in Mona’s head is Terry Gross, a sympathetic but honest companion, as one might expect her to be. Mona has gotten over Mr. Disgusting, more or less, but has replaced him with a new man she calls Dark. Of course, Dark is a less than perfect boyfriend, if being married and dishonest count as imperfections.

Mona believes she occupies a “very real place” between straight and gay, real because it isn’t the “fake, slutty island or amusement park” that bisexuality is often imagined to be. She has a new house to clean, owned by Hungarian artists with too many cats, and is attracted both to the wife and to the couple’s furniture, which she likes to fondle. Like her other clients, the Hungarians either want to have sex with Mona or include her in an art project.

Mona’s life continues to be isolated, despite her intimate interaction with various clients, but she finds a friend and kindred spirit in Maria Maria, another cleaner with whom she bonds. Late in the novel she meets yet another man and her life changes, as lives must. Whether the change is an improvement is unclear, as changes often are. When confronted with a choice between boring and stable or exciting and life-shattering, Mona always knows that whatever choice she makes will be wrong.

Vacuum in the Dark explores Mona’s experiences before she came to Taos. Some of those incidents are distressing, but the drama is wisely underplayed, preventing the story from becoming maudlin. At some point, Mona returns for a visit to her mother, giving the reader additional insight into Mona’s formative relationships. All the details of Mona’s past inform the reader’s understanding of the quirky person Mona has become. The reader can sympathize with Mona while appreciating her ability to cope, however shakily, with the life into which she has been thrust.

Jen Beagin has the kind of wit that sneaks up on a reader. She assembles sentences that seem to be informative until they suddenly become absurdly funny. Vacuum in the Dark is perfect for fans of dark humor. Mona’s observant nature, along with her snooping through the houses she cleans, gives her more knowledge about her clients than a cleaner should probably have, but her discoveries are a fertile source of laughter. Her self-discoveries are also amusing, but they add humanizing depth to the ongoing story of Mona’s life. It is an engaging story that could easily continue to entertain readers throughout upcoming stages of Mona’s life.

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“I’m definitely fucked up enough to be a therapist.”

Vacuum in the Dark from Jen Beagin is the follow-up novel to Pretend I’m Dead, but it can be read as a standalone. Pretend I’m Dead was the author’s debut novel; it introduces 24-year-old Mona, who cleans houses for a living. In this novel, Mona falls in love with a man she calls Mr Disgusting, and moves to Taos, New Mexico. When Vacuum in the Dark opens, Mona is cleaning the home of Rose, a blind therapist when she discovers a piece of poo, masquerading as soap, sitting on the side of a sink.

Vacuum in the dark

Mona’s cleaning lady observations were brilliant and brilliantly funny. Cleaners get to see a side of their employers that is invisible to others, and the author capitalises on Mona’s employment, making observations, while Mona engages in “clandestine photography.” 

People were like vampires. Their stories drained the life out of her. Then, half-dead and bloodless, she carried on cleaning their toilets like nothing had ever happened.

Even before Mona starts finding poo strategically placed in Rose’s home, it’s already evident that Mona’s life is strange. She’s surrounded by Strange. Perhaps this explains why she has conversation with NPR’s Terry Gross in her head. “Terry was simply a sober and inquistive voice,” who argues for rational behavior in Mona’s otherwise looney-environment. The weirdness in Mona’s life also extends to her home. She rents half a house while the other half is rented by an older married couple who “made music with homemade instruments and dressed in matching pajamas.”

Then there’s Rose and her household. Rose owns a dog named Dinner, has a hostile teenage daughter, and a husband who makes coffins. The Big Question lurking under Mona’s daily routine is: who is responsible for the poo?

Here’s Mona talking to Rose after describing a photograph she has just found:

“What do you see when you think of the color red?” Mona asked.

“Oh, I remember red,” Rose said. “I wasn’t born blind.”

“Oh,” Mona said. “Were you  … in a accident?”

“Sort of,” she said, and smiled weakly. “I was having an affair with the man you just described.”

Mona silently took a step back. She heard Dinner drink from his bowl in the kitchen.

“Do you mean your father molested you?” Mona asked.

“I thought of it as an affair,” Rose said, “which sounds ridiculous and insane, but I was convinced that we were in love. I was thirteen.”

“Mayday,” Terry whispered. “Bail out.”

“Not now, ” Mona whispered back.

“We never had intercourse,” Rose volunteered. “It was more emotional than anything. Which isn’t to say that it wasn’t sexual too.” 

Mona cleared her throat. “And you went blind?” 

“Well, that was partly genetic,” Rose said.

Mona looked toward the front door, Closed, but not locked. She imagined herself tiptoeing out of the room and then making a run for it. 

Opening a novel with a description of grabbing fecal matter is a bold way to begin, and it’s also an off-putting start. I almost gave up right then and there but very quickly found myself engaged by Mona’s engaging narrative voice. Some authors have a talent for creating genuine voices, voices that appeal and compel us to read on, and in this novel, Beagin gives us a marvellous, original voice. Some things really worked in this subversive novel, while others did not. Sex scenes in novels don’t add a lot for this reader, and some of the lines grated: “I want to hump your armpits,” she said. “And maybe your hair.” But that said, I’m glad I stuck with this.

Vacuum in the Dark may appeal to fans of Ottessa Moshfegh

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My Thoughts: I hadn’t realized that Vacuum in the Dark was a sequel until just before I started reading it, but can honestly say that didn’t matter. The story of Mona, a house cleaner in Taos, New Mexico stood just fine on its own. Mona’s quirkiness was very appealing. Her hobby was photography and she specialized in taking funny pictures of herself in her client’s homes, wearing their clothing, holding their possessions. So, yes, Mona was a bit of an unusual young woman, and her clients were also some VERY colorful individuals. The book only has four chapters and the first two focused on Mona and a couple of her most odd clients. I thoroughly enjoyed these chapters, even as I was saying to myself, “Wait! What?”

In the third chapter, Mona went to visit her mother and step-father in Florida, and that’s where the book faltered for me. Her parents and everything that happened in Florida, just didn’t have the draw of the earlier stories. I grew bored as Mona seemed to lose her edge. By the fourth chapter, she’d grown almost pathetic, yet somehow my interest picked up just a little. In the end, Vacuum in the Dark was just too much of a roller coaster ride for me. By the second half, I just wanted off.
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I really enjoyed reading this book. I love the author's writing style and O loved the laugh out loud moments peppered within the story. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for something highly entertaining. Happy reading!
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The story is broken up into four separate sections. The first one totally threw me off and I almost DNF'd the rest of the book because, quite honestly, I couldn't figure out why I was reading so much about poop 💩. (Seriously.) Had the book been longer and not a @NetGalley request, I probably would have DNF'd it. Thank goodness, the parts got better as it went on…but not by much. I kind of thought this would be a fictionalized version of Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land, but it wasn’t reminiscent of that story in any way. Ultimately, this just wasn't the book for me. It is a quick read and some may find it funny, but I personally didn't connect with it in anyway.
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I like this book.  It’s quirky, hilarious and unconventional. It took me awhile to get into it but I like it.  It’s very funny. Advance reader copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for my honest review.
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Mona is someone way out of my personal experience.  I read the first book and noted at the time that I wasn't sure I liked her.  This second book reinforced in me the fact that while I may not be able to relate to her, I just can't look away. Beagin has a unique voice, for sure, and she's turned her lens on the rest of us.  You might find some of this disgusting and you might also (surprise) recognize something of yourself or someone  you know in her clients or Mona herself.  You gotta love someone who talks to Terry Gross in her head.  Thanks to the publisher for the ARC.  This isn't for everyone but those who like literary fiction with a sometimes ugly turn should try it. I'm actually looking forward to whatever Beagin writes next.
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I received this book free and early, thanks to Net Galley and Scribner. It will be available to the public February 26, 2019. 

The cover grabbed my attention right away, and I like sassy working class fiction. I haven’t read the author’s first book, but this one doesn’t rely on back story, so that is no problem. 

The promotional blurb says this is laugh-out-loud funny, and it did make me laugh out loud right away. The protagonist Mona is a housecleaner, and as she is wiping down the various surfaces in the bathroom, she comes across a human turd on a soap dish. The hell? But she resolves not to say anything about it, because she tells us once you mention it, they win. I howled with laughter. This is great stuff. Every now and then she tosses in a cleaning tip, and for some reason it works with the narrative. Maybe it’s because she already uses such an eccentric style that it seems consistent with the rest of the story. 

As the first of the book’s four sections moves forward, she recollects the oddball things that she’s found while cleaning other people’s homes, and then we see the reward she gives herself at the end, after several hours of cleaning a large, expensive home: she paws through the residents’ clothing, selects some, and tries it on. She photographs herself in their clothes, and she also photographs herself mostly nude with their more remarkable possessions. 

But one day she is interrupted in this ritual by the homeowner, and a truly bizarre relationship develops which includes his wife as well, and just like that we moved out of my comfort zone, but I promised to read and review this thing, so I forged onward. 

I knew this would be edgy humor when I requested the galley, and perhaps I should have read between the lines a little more thoroughly. The narrative contains a goodly amount of explicit sexual content—much of it twisted--not to mention a rape that Mona recounts, a scarring episode from her past. But in all of it, I don’t see any character development to speak of.  The plot seems like more of a framework that’s been constructed in order to contain the various bits of humor that the author wants to include. And here, I also have to wonder why, why, why would anyone include the horrific suicide of a family member in an otherwise raunchily funny book? It was unexpected and made my gut flip over, the snide things she thinks about how the couple have dealt with the death of their daughter, the disposition of the ashes. Once you have read something you can’t unread it, and in all honesty I won’t read anything by this writer again. 

At the same time, there are readers that loved her first book and I’ll bet you a dollar that they will love this one too. It bears the hallmark of a cult classic. I have no doubt that many readers will love it, but I do not. 

Recommended to readers that read and enjoyed the author’s first book.
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This novel is a wing ding of a book about a young woman who works as a house cleaner in Taos, New Mexico. Mona has had a rough life starting with her parents, grandfather, and continuing with boyfriends who are creepy and treat her poorly.

Mona has a friend she talks to, Terry Gross of NPR.  Terry isn't there when Mona speaks to her nor does she even know Terry, but it seems to help Mona get through the day.  Her housecleaning clients are wealthy and often quite weird.  

Mona is a photographer and takes pictures of herself in the houses she cleans.  Often, the photos are of her dressed in her clients' clothes.  The client that leaves the most definite impression is the blind woman whose husband is always traveling.  Mona is fascinated by the client's beauty and her willingness to take time to talk with Mona.

And let's not forget Mona's neighbors who dress in white pajama type gear and whom Mona calls Yoko and Yoko.  This book is new and provocative.  I agree with reviewers who call it fresh, and it is that. A sweet, young voice is always welcome.  I wish Jan Beagin heaps of success with her new work.

I received an advanced copy of this novel from the publisher through NetGalley.
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This was a very weird, disturbing, fascinating book.  Mona is a self-employed maid working in Taos, New Mexico and she has some unusual clients.  There are the blind woman and her spouse, who both want a lot more than a clean house from her, the artists who allegedly want to celebrate her art but really pull Mona into a very weird triangle in which it is revealed that she reminds them of their long dead daughter.  But Mona seems okay, even though she finds herself in these bizarre situations.  But as Beagin slowly exposes Mona's past, we learn that she has been damaged, badly, by events in her childhood and that the self-destructive coping mechanisms that Mona developed as a result are still just below the surface.  The only problem I had with the book were that there were a lot of loose ends and facts about Mona's past that were raised, but never explained.
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I read this quickly. I found out it was a sequel, but I did not need the first one.... I recommend for fans of Ottessa Moshfegh...
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'While her parents were busy ruining their marriage, she’d spent three or four days a week with her paternal grandfather, Woody Boyle, a mild-mannered man, an avid reader and functional alcoholic. But he’d taught her all of life’s essentials: how to spit like a man, take a good photograph, drive stick, make a stiff drink, swim butterfly, French-braid, and, perhaps most importantly, how to play dumb.'

Mona’s voice is always entertaining for me as it’s unfiltered. In Pretend I’m Dead it was all about her love for drug addict Mr. Disgusting and his “creepy honesty.” She staunchly remains messy, keeps her cracks like we all do and isn’t going to transform into a perfect human ideal giggling under some rainbow because she has it all figured out. Does anyone ever truly do this in real life? Wherever you go, there you are whether you’ve gained wisdom or not, you’re still you! So Mr. Disgusting is out, what does she do? Takes up with a married man she calls Dark, of course, which isn’t really a step up from chasing after her dead junkie boyfriend. Still cleaning other’s filth, she spends her days swooning over the love notes he brazenly leaves behind for her to find on her cleaning days at his home. The stupor their love-making puts her in dissipates when Rose, his wife, enlightens her about the true state of their marriage. Then there is the mystery pooh, yep… poop. Jen Beagin can spin some of the strangest situations for Mona, darkly hilarious, she seems to witness people at their lowest. I shouldn’t grin like a lunatic when I read her books but I do. This novel is a great escape from the usual writing out there.

Soon she meets the barbarians, cats owned by the Kosas, a pill popping Hungarian couple. The murderous cats are as exotic as Lena and Paul, both artists with a house that feels like a lover waiting to be explored by Mona. Explore it she does, making her own art, taking photographs while talking to herself (Terry, her subconscious or imaginary friend), crossing boundaries, as always. We learn more about Mona’s past in this book. Yoko and Yoko (Shiori and Nigel) are still telling her to ‘stay curious’ but she isn’t curious enough about her childhood, would rather leave what is hiding in that dark abyss untouched. Lena and Paul convince her to pose nude for them, but it’s the way Lena helps Mona feel carefree enough to ‘bare’ herself that bonds them as much as Lena’s “war stories”. Then there are the pills, no big deal… Lena can mentor her, help her get her foot into the art world, do something with her photographs. Lena helps her give birth to the meaning behind her pictures, which tell a story Mona hadn’t been paying attention to until Lena’s keen eye comes along. Their intimacy happens fast, Mona is finally opening herself up to someone, telling Lena a story she buried long ago, making her vulnerable in a way she has never been and just like that, Lena is gone, a sudden abrupt departure.

Mona is left alone to pose for Paul as Lena is called away for work at the gallery, props are firing off memories of her past better left untouched. She discovers through Paul that Lena hasn’t been as open and forthcoming as she seems. There is something about Mona that has inspired Lena to pull her into their world, that has Lena praying for her and for rain, rain in a clear sky. Paul wants too much from her, it begins to feel wrong, and to the surface the muck of her long-held shame rises. The couple may be a catalyst forcing her to understand that her long held beliefs about her relationships have been skewed, always forcing her into the role of villain.

Licking her wounds from betrayal, her biological mother calls and asks her to come out to LA and pick up the boxes she has kept. Returning feels like regressing, and her mother and stepfather Frank seem to have ‘gone to the birds’. Drug abuse, mental illness… all sorts of troubles in her family genetics, but things can change, people can sober up and face their pain. It’s never too late for one’s mother to take her rightful place in your life, is it?  For Mona, it’s ‘mercy’ that brings her to tears, and tough Frank may surprise her as much as her ‘reformed’ mother. The forces of nature lead her to a man named Kurt and Bakersfield but old habits die hard, Mona doesn’t always do the right thing for herself, and she sometimes figures things out too late, but some people take the long way home. Mona likes to chase her own tail, but by the end she may find direction and clarity.

I think Jen Beagin is fantastic because maybe I enjoy my characters shell-shocked by their life experiences, it is easier to relate to imperfection. I loved it!

Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Scribner
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Too be honest, this book was not my cup of tea.  I really did not enjoy reading it.  I guess that I was expecting more.  I enjoy a book with somewhat more depth than this one.
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3.5 stars rounded up to 4.*

I downloaded this title months ago from Netgalley, and I'm not sure why I waited so long to read it!  

I did not realize that it was a sequel, even as I was reading it until I looked up the book to see what the reviews were like.  Not surprisingly, the reviews for this title run the gamut.

Vacuum in the Dark is the story of Mona, an artistic, emotionally struggling cleaning lady who maintains an ongoing friendship (in her mind) with Terry Gross (the NPR newscaster).  Mona is deliciously weird.  I immediately liked her for all of her quirks.  However, the story tends not only to the absurd but often to the vulgar and definitely toward the extremes.  There is heavy graphic sexual undertones, backstories involving sexual abuse, and decidedly unhealthy coping mechanisms.

All that said, I really enjoyed the book.  It is not for everybody and I'd be very careful about who I would recommend it to, but I will recommend it.  I also plan to read the first book in the series and look forward to more from Jen Beagin.

*with thanks to Netgalley for the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.
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Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

In some ways this book felt pretentious and depressing, but at the same time I was kind of into it. It's less of a novel and more a collection of four related short stories. The "point," to me, is less about the narrative and more getting into the head of the narrator and feeling what she feels. In that way, I think this book will stay with me for awhile, but I've already forgotten most of the characters' names. I love that she has a running dialogue in her head with Terry Gross, host of NPR's Fresh Air. Super random, but it also totally worked. 

All in all, I liked how this book made me think and feel, but not a lot of story. I would read more by Jen Beagin, though, I can see her doing great things.
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Mona has recently moved to Taos, NM from Massachusetts following the loss of boyfriend. Here, she makes a living cleaning houses for the quirky clientele of Taos. While cleaning, Mona converses with her imaginary version of Terry Gross, the host of the NPR show, Fresh Air. Mona is humorous, funny, self-deprecating with a touch of despair. She finds humor in the sad moments. About half way through, it takes a turn to the sadder side, but we find greater depth and appreciation for Mona’s character, however at this point the book seemed like two different novels to me. This book is funny and will make you laugh out loud. I wasn’t expecting the more serious part of the book, but I didn’t mind. I will definitely go back and read Beagin’s previous work, “Pretend I’m Dead.”
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Beagin has a singular voice, and like her stellar first book, Pretend I'm Dead, this is a fun, quirky, sui generis romp. If I didn't rate it quite as highly, it's because, as with many (most?) sequels, this suffers just a tiny bit from sophomore slump ... cleaning lady Mona was such a surprising, unique character the first time around, that encountering her again doesn't have quite the same impact. It's more like running into an old friend, and though you're grateful for the encounter, you're just somehow NOT quite as excited as you were initially. Still, should there be a third volume of Mona's exploits (and the ending here certainly indicates that IS an option), I'd definitely be up for the ride! Or really, wherever Beagin wants to take me next. 

My sincere thanks to Scribner and Netgalley for the ARC, in exchange for this honest (nd enthusiastic) review!
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