Jean is a young aspiring “American in Paris” whose entire existence is turned on its head when he returns from Algeria to be with his lover Jillian only to have her vanish mysteriously just days later.
Refusing to believe she is dead, he embarks on a life-altering quest through Paris and rural France, convinced she the secret of her disappearance lies in the works of French surrealist poet and diagnosed schizophrenic Antonin Artaud, while also confronting the disturbing notion that if she is not dead the reasons behind her disappearance may be even more horrifying than her possible murder.
Forced to cooperate with her thesis advisor and bitterly jealous suitor Poilblanc, Jean immerses himself in the labyrinthine world of Artaud, losing himself in an increasingly nebulous maze of clues, which only seem to lead his quest further into absurdity.
His life spirals into nihilism and sexual excess as each inexplicable event (including an exploding doll’s leg sent to his address by a mysterious Jacob Sodergren) only deepens his uncertainty and suggests that her disappearance was part of a much bigger conspiracy, possibly directed against him for reasons he cannot begin to fathom.
Just when he resolves to give up and move on, the novel takes a surprising turn and the bizarre and shocking truth behind Jillian’s disappearance is finally revealed.
The Narcissist draws immediate comparisons to Paul Auster's now iconic Cities of Glass from The New York Trilogy. Metaphorically speaking, it is a stylish Film Noir classic written by Arthur Rimbaud and directed by Louis Ferdinand Celine, a work of literary fiction that defies all categorization.
Disappearance. As if the word and the woman had suddenly become one, I shrunk away from her in defeat. But wasn’t that precisely why I loved her? Jillian was always vanishing from me when I needed her the most. Like Degas’ ballerina, she was a creature dangling from a thin thread that reached down from some higher realm. I’d always taken her passion for Artaud’s Theater and its Double as consubstantial with my own relentless craving to slip away from my outer life and into my most secret fantasies. Her thesis was written certification that she and I were woven from the same cloth: the world of dreams and the imagination. But to have her only as a dream would have been unbearable. My mother always said I preferred dreams to the truth, but Jillian was the one thing in life where dreams and reality hit a singularity and became indistinguishable.
The night after she left with Adrien, leaving me to walk her young sister home through the downtown alleys of Lyon, I felt I had suddenly fallen in the heart of a deep black abyss. But the next morning I awoke to new optimism and hoped that it was all just a glitch and she would call back in the next few days effusing regret over her actions. Although I desperately wanted to call her and find out what had happened, I realized that my pride was at stake and it was her duty to call me and apologize. I always found that to win a woman back the worst thing to do was scamper around on her coat tails. But I waited for weeks without hearing from her and my hopes rapidly faded. She had no doubt accepted Adrien’s plea for her hand in marriage. I cursed his dirty tactics. I hated him for showing up all desperate and morbid claiming that somehow she was letting him down by not loving him the way he loved her. But was this the truth or was there something more? On the hope that I could find out what had actually happened I tried calling Annette in London. I felt I knew her well enough and that she would somehow be able to talk some sense into Jillian and help me win her back before it was too late. So strange I thought, reflecting on the absurdities of my actions as I walked over to the phone, how I’d convinced myself that some secondary agent like her sister could sway something as vast and unpredictable as Jillian’s heart back into my hands with something so small as a few words of endorsement. In desperation I tried dialing Annette’s number several times but always got some strange man’s voice.
After months of suffering my heart grew tired and I was slowly able to turn my mind to other things. By late autumn, I had almost grown accustomed to her being out of my life. I looked back on our relationship as a fleeting romance and began to applaud myself for at least having a fling and not spending my entire life in military training or locked inside a book. After all, having loved her and lost her was better than not having loved her at all. I started to ask out other women. I even kissed a small French waitress over a barstool one night. We were trading coy glances all night while I sat at the bar reading a book as she trolleyed back and forth from the bar to the outdoor tables carrying a tray of beer and liquor. At just about closing time I mustered up the courage to touch her shoulder and kiss her as she passed. She responded with a huge smile, but her reaction seemed like enough of a reward and I decided not to take it any further.
It was exactly three weeks after that kiss when I saw Jillian again. It was the first day of winter. She was hiding behind a pair of dark sunglasses walking alone down the same street I ran into her the day after we’d first met. At first I didn’t recognize her. She jogged up to me with a pile of papers clamped tightly under her arm. But it was not, as I found out later, entirely by accident that we crossed paths.