The Pygmalion myth recast by one of America’s boldest and most bewitching storytellers
Anna Graham has one ambition—to be a great actress. The only problem is, she can’t stop being herself. She is proud, stubborn, and moody; according to her acting teacher, she needs to be as bland and pliable as warm wax. Even when she rents a Good Fairy Queen Costume—complete with crown, wand, and wig—and walks the streets of New York City until three thirty in the morning, she fails to be anyone but Anna Graham. “Help,” she thinks, smoking a cigarette in a deserted subway station. “Help!” screams a man at the other end of the platform as two attackers pull him onto the train tracks. Red pepper spray in hand, the Good Fairy Queen rushes to Damon Wetly’s rescue—and Anna’s wish comes true, in the oddest way imaginable.
Locked inside a cage in Wetly’s cloud-filled country home, Anna learns to do everything—walk, talk, think, eat, breathe—differently. When she finally escapes, she becomes a star—as Wetly promised she would. The new-and-improved Anna attracts plenty of admirers—including a paraplegic soap opera celebrity; the world’s most famous supermodel; and a handsome cellist, Weight Watchers counselor, etiquette expert, and exotic dancer named Nathaniel Powers—but she only has eyes for her former captor, the creator of miniature clouds and major actresses. Just when it seems that her fairy tale ending is right around the corner, Anna’s whole world threatens to evaporate into thin air.
Fearless and fascinating, Vapor holds a funhouse mirror up to some of our deepest and most alluring notions about fame, identity, and desire.
This cruelly inventive, mercilessly witty and outrageous second novel skewers the Pygmalion myth with barbs at modern neurosis, celebrity, greed and obsession. Filipacchi (Nude Men) plunges her heroine into a surreal trajectory from drama school failure to Oscar winner, satirizing the American dream every step of the way. Anna Graham, 27, passes time piercing ears, making copies at a Xerox shop, attending acting classes and thinking up ways to punish herself. That is, until the night when, dressed as the Good Fairy, she rushes onto the subway tracks to save the life of an eccentric scientific researcher named Damon Wetly, who repays her by making her fondest wish--to become a famous actress--come true. Wetly plays Higgins to Anna's Eliza, teaching her to walk, talk, eat and think. To ensure Anna's commitment to his bizarre techniques, he holds her hostage in a cage, pelting her with ice bullets when she misbehaves and treating her to gifts and games as she makes progress. The brilliantly bizarre inverted logic of this relationship echoes elsewhere in Anna's life: when she herself is rescued from rapists, she dates her hero, who turns out to be quite a catch: a cosmetic surgeon, etiquette expert, cellist, Weight Watcher's counselor and male stripper. But Anna's metamorphosis and identity is bound, literally and irrefutably, with Damon. Filipacchi shrewdly juxtaposes human actions with contrasting desires, pitting social aspirations against antisocial ones. She quickly launches from the mundane (Anna's acting coach suggesting she give up acting) to the insane (then suggesting she give up her name to a promising actress who could make better use of it) fueled by clever language and merciless insight. Her novel showcases a prodigious postfeminist talent. Her energetic originality never falters and her unforgiving eye for the fluidity of human weakness never blinks. FYI: Not to be confused with Vapors, by Wes DeMott, reviewed on March 15.