In the aftermath of a reality TV deal gone wrong, Fiona Alison Duncan asks the question, Can you rewrite your life? The answer, her debut novel Exquisite Mariposa, follows a cast of housemates as they navigate questions of art making and economies, breakups and breakdowns, and the internet and its many obsessions.
Given the initials F.A.D. at birth, Fiona Alison Duncan has always had an eye for observing the trends around her. But after years of trying to please others, looking for answers in books and astrological charts, and clocking endless hours as a celebrity journalist just to make rent, Fiona discovers another way of existing: in the Real, a phenomenological state few humans live in.
Fiona’s journey to the Real takes her to Koreatown, Los Angeles, where she sublets a room in La Mariposa. There she meets a cast of friends and lovers, like Amalia, an artist whose muse is her pet pigeon; Lucien, an infamous philanderer; and Morgan, whose anxiety keeps her from ever sitting still. When Fiona is offered the chance to turn her new household into a reality TV show, she jumps at the opportunity—but it isn’t long before she begins to question this new script.
In the midst of her Saturn Return, Fiona pulls the plug on the reality TV deal, heals a few addictions, and returns to writing with Exquisite Mariposa, a debut novel starring her housemates as they ask questions of survival, art, love, language, and the possibilities of rewriting one’s life.
Ecstatic and painful, Exquisite Mariposa is a diligent search for the heart of The Real, taking its place alongside the great Young Girl books of becoming, from Mary McCarthy’s The Company She Keeps to Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends. To Duncan, The Real equals self-knowledge, compassion, and perception. She is a genius, and I’d follow her anywhere.
Fiona Alison Duncan will raise your consciousness and spirits with her unworldly presence, her sensuous and intense perception, her free-floating mind. She may be an alien, but she is a friendly, peace-seeking alien who just wants to talk. I could listen to her voice all day.
If you described it to me, there’s no way I would read it. It’s everything I hate in life and literature, but somehow it’s really good.
Exquisite Mariposa is one of those books that had me from the first sentence to the last and beyond. Duncan churns up all the digital, performative, hypersocial chaos of our present ‘reality,’ even of the near future, and crystallizes it into dreamy and raw poetry. Page after page, paragraph after paragraph, this story, built on jewel-like insights, sometimes made me laugh and sometimes made me sad and always registered as true.
An unapologetically raw account of coming of age broke in Trump-era Los Angeles in the social media–saturated Now, this meditation (almost manifesto?) on materialism, media, power, performance, and sexuality uses inventive, of-the-moment language to tackle that circuitous route to self-discovery that is your twenties—in a startlingly original way.
Exquisite Mariposa is like if Eve Babitz wrote Weetzie Bat: luminous, loopy, magical, and picaresque. It’s an honor to even live in the same Los Angeles that this book describes.