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.
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.
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.