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Wednesday, May 26th, 2004


Here Kitty Kitty: A Novel

by Jardine Libaire

Hip-Lit Crit

A review by Anna Godbersen

The Jazz Age had Fitzgerald, the Beat Generation had Kerouac, and now post-millennium Williamsburg has Jardine Libaire. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, that is, the hip, occasionally seedy neighborhood where the heroine of Libaire's debut novel, Here Kitty Kitty, lives. The kitty in question is Lee, a good-time girl, one-time art student and sometime restaurant manager. She lives fast, drinks hard, spends big, and keeps herself going with a potpourri of drug dependencies; she describes her life at one point as "Armageddon." But she's also got Yves, a sophisticated and wealthy older lover who buys her the luxuries she wants, bails her out after every bender, and even seems to enjoy the scenes she makes. Into this perfect picture walks Kelly, a bartender Yves has pressured Lee into hiring at the restaurant. Kelly is rough in contrast to the fine-mannered Yves, and despite Lee's initial aversion to him, Kelly soon emerges as the dark-horse love interest. But Lee's life has to get worse before it gets better, and her needy, bratty, self-destructive tendencies begin to spiral out of control.

Lee begins her narrative, tellingly, with a list of the best ways to consume various substances (e.g., "Before a job interview, Irish coffee and Xanax,"), a list she describes first as "religion" and then as "art." Telling, because this novel reads at times like a diary of consumption, a detailed account of the food, drink and clothing tastes of one hot chick. But also because Libaire writes in punchy, truncated sentences that are frequently list-like in form. This clipped prose style does not prevent her from purple phrasing, however, and the combination is often cloying ("I imagined my heart as a piece of coral: tunneled, calcified") and sometimes maudlin ("Everyone but me had brought something. I'd brought the black hole of my misfit personality"). Occasionally, it just sounds like bad slam poetry. (A character description ends, "Chinese star tattooed in green on neck.") Lee does inevitably start picking up the pieces: She gets straight, works on her painting, and adopts a kitten.

Could Libaire's be the voice of her subculture? She certainly has the tone down. Here Kitty Kitty is irritating for the same reasons that hipsters are irritating: It is strutting, humorless, and formulaic.

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