Vacuum in the Dark

A Novel

LIST PRICE $12.99
About The Book

From the Whiting Award-winning author of Pretend I’m Dead and one of the most exhilarating new voices in fiction, a new hilarious, edgy, and brilliant one-of-a-kind novel about a cleaning lady named Mona and her struggles to move forward in life.

Mona is twenty-six and cleans houses for a living in Taos, New Mexico. She moved there mostly because of a bad boyfriend—a junkie named Mr. Disgusting, long story—and her efforts to restart her life since haven’t exactly gone as planned. For one thing, she’s got another bad boyfriend. This one she calls Dark, and he happens to be married to one of Mona’s clients. He also might be a little unstable.

Dark and his wife aren’t the only complicated clients on Mona’s roster, either. There’s also the Hungarian artist couple who—with her addiction to painkillers and his lingering stares—reminds Mona of troubling aspects of her childhood, and some of the underlying reasons her life had to be restarted in the first place. As she tries to get over the heartache of her affair and the older pains of her youth, Mona winds up on an eccentric, moving journey of self-discovery that takes her back to her beginnings where she attempts to unlock the key to having a sense of home in the future.

The only problems are Dark and her past. Neither is so easy to get rid of.

A constantly surprising, laugh-out-loud funny novel about an utterly unique woman dealing with some of the most universal issues in America today, Vacuum in the Dark is an unforgettable, astonishing read from one of the freshest voices in fiction today.

Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Vacuum in the Dark includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Mona is twenty-six and cleans houses for a living in Taos, New Mexico. She moved there mostly because of a bad boyfriend—a junkie named Mr. Disgusting, long story—and her efforts to restart her life since haven’t exactly gone as planned. For one thing, she’s got another bad boyfriend. This one she calls Dark, and he happens to be married to one of Mona’s clients. He also might be a little unstable.

Dark and his wife aren’t the only complicated clients on Mona’s roster, either. There’s also the Hungarian artist couple who—with her addiction to painkillers and his lingering stares—reminds Mona of troubling aspects of her childhood, and some of the underlying reasons her life had to be restarted in the first place. As she tries to get over the heartache of her affair and the older pains of her youth, Mona winds up on an eccentric, moving journey of self-discovery that takes her back to her beginnings where she attempts to unlock the key to having a sense of home in the future.

The only problems are Dark and her past. Neither is so easy to get rid of.

A constantly surprising, laugh-out-loud funny novel about an utterly unique woman dealing with some of the most universal issues in America today, Vacuum in the Dark is an unforgettable, astonishing read from one of the freshest voices in fiction today.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Beagin herself worked as a cleaning lady and she draws on some of her own experiences cleaning homes. Does knowing that there is an autobiographical component affect the way you understand Mona?

2. Throughout the novel, Mona speaks to her imaginary friend, NPR host Terry Gross. Are her conversations with Terry a product of loneliness? A way to pass the time as she cleans? A form of prayer? What role do you think Terry plays in the novel and in Mona’s life?

3. Mona says repeatedly that Dark makes her feel “Spanish.” What do you think she means by that?

4. Dark has tattoos across his knuckles that read: MORE LOVE. Mona calls back to this phrase several times throughout the novel, even after she severs her relationship with Dark. Discuss how Mona’s search for more love underpins the novel.

5. Before she leaves Rose’s house for good, Mona steals the portrait Dark painted of his wife. Why do you think she selected that portrait? What does it signify?

6. When Mona tells Lena that she has “intimate relationships” with the homes she cleans, Lena responds by saying that the house is all her. Is Mona’s love for a house an extension of her love for its owner? Or vice versa? How can we understand Mona’s unusually close relationships with her clients?

7. How can we understand Mona’s flashbacks to her grandparents Woody and Ginger throughout her experience cleaning Paul and Lena’s home? What is the connection between the two? What can we make of the title of the chapter, “Barbarians”?

8. On page 70, Paul says that he wants to show Mona something, and Mona thinks: “Please don't let it be your penis.” What are other moments in which Mona fears abuse or harassment? Discuss how the threat of male violence, particularly sexual violence, weighs on Mona’s inner monologue and drives the plot.

9. Mona calls her neighbors “Yoko and Yoko.” She refers to Philip as Dark. She calls her mother Clare, even though her given name is Darlene. Why do you think Mona has a habit of renaming the people around her, even those closest to her? What is the significance of “Mommy,” both as a chapter title and as the name her mother desires?

10. Mona refers to her mother as her phantom limb. Are there times earlier in the novel where we can sense Mona’s yearning for her mother?

11. Both Mona’s father and Mr. Disgusting, her junkie ex-boyfriend, appear as a shadows throughout the novel, though those who have read Pretend I’m Dead will know more about their history. How do their presences loom over Mona’s life, even in absentia? How does she connect the two in her memory?

12. The novel’s title comes from a passage on page 195: “[Mona] loved to vacuum in the dark, with only the warm, golden beam of the Eureka’s headlight to guide her.” What do you think is the significance of this line? How can it help us understand the novel?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Listen to Terry Gross interviews and discuss how Mona’s imaginary Terry matches up against the real-life Terry on the air: https://www.npr.org/people/2100593/terry-gross.

2. Read and discuss Pretend I’m Dead, Beagin’s debut novel, which chronicles Mona’s life at age twenty-four.
About The Author
Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

Jen Beagin holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of California, Irvine, and is a recipient of a 2017 Whiting Award in fiction. She is the author of Pretend I'm Dead and Vacuum in the Dark. A former cleaning lady, she lives in Hudson, New York.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Scribner (February 2019)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501182167

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Raves and Reviews

Praise for Vacuum in the Dark

"A follow-up to the riotous Pretend I'm Dead, this is what a sequel should be: darker, sexier, funnier. By turns nutty and forlorn... Brash, deadpan, and achingly troubled, Mona emerges as that problematic friend you’re nonetheless always thrilled to see."

– O, the Oprah Magazine

“This novel is a joy: truly laugh-out-loud funny, while staying grounded and dignified, even as Mona capsizes again and again.”

– Stephanie Danler, The New York Times Book Review

"A thoroughly delightfully, surprisingly profound encore. Beagin stands out among fiction’s fresh crop of promising voices: Her prose is dry, cutting, and genuinely funny; she loves writing about strange people, an affection which translates in characterizations that stay sharp and peculiar without ever turning cruel... Vacuum proves dramatically satisfying too, as Beagin pushes its boundaries to grant us deeper, darker access into Mona’s interior life, and the pain of her troubled past. The character’s salty perspective resonates perfectly — a kind, weary, almost laconic wit that carries a sneaky depth."

– Entertainment Weekly

"A wildly exuberant novel that doesn't shy away from the weirder and more disgusting parts of life. Vacuum in the Dark is a funny and surprisingly sweet book about a young woman who grew up too fast and is trying desperately to reinvent herself... Beagin is a wonderfully funny writer who also happens to tackle serious subjects, which few authors are able to pull off successfully... the result is a comic novel that's a joy to read but never frivolous or superficial. Beagin is unafraid to take risks, and they all pay off here — Vacuum in the Dark is an excellent book by a writer with a singular voice."

– NPR

"Energetic... These adventures open up into larger questions of Mona’s own stalled artistic ambitions and a reckoning with her estranged mother—issues refracted with black humor and a sense of timing that rarely slackens... The escapades are underpinned by a strong voice that seems to have seen everyone’s worst, and to have nothing left to conceal."

– The New Yorker

"Piquantly amusing... Weird, darkly funny... sharply drawn, sexually charged, wry with Mona’s deadpan wit." 

– Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Revels in both order and transgression... Stands alone beautifully... Mona’s unforgettably wry voice remains throughout."

– Vulture

"Tremendously engaging... Funny and poignant... Beagin excels at mixing comedy and pathos in a way that dilutes neither... Beagin secures her position as a new writer to watch. 

– Kirkus, starred reviews

"Sharp and superb... Beagin pulls no punches--this novel is viciously smart and morbidly funny."

– Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Inventing situations and conversations that are off-the-charts in both weirdness and relatability, Beagin fashions an enchantingly intriguing main character in unfiltered, warmhearted Mona. This story of a woman embracing life's what-ifs and her own darkness is a great read."

– Booklist, starred review

"Beagin introduces readers to several recurring characters whose quirkiness infuses the book with its humor and drawing power."

– Albuquerque Journal

"Fresh, strange, hilarious and very moving... I am so taken with this book. I loved it...It reminded me a bit of Dennis Johnson’s Jesus’s Son or a more hardcore, ravaged Lorrie Moore... Other writers work this road but few so affectingly. The main character is a cleaning woman whose scars from childhood neglect and abuse are deeper and more complicated than we first realize or she understands... Gradually she bewitches and in her way inspires the reader. She has a real heroism as she tries to reclaim her life and, like her creator, has an absolutely piercing eye. I totally capitulated to her when she compared one of her clients lizard-killing cats to the Manson family and my affection for her grew from there with leaps and bounds. She is an unintentional artist and her lack of ambition about it and her drive to do it because it is necessary is one of the many, many interesting things about this novel... The writing is spare and feels effortless. Like the heroine it doesn’t call undue attention to itself but hovers on the brink of danger... I am kind of in awe of Jen Beagin. I am so glad she’s out there and am running backwards at a rapid speed to find her first book."

– George Hodgman, author of Bettyville

Praise for Pretend I'm Dead

"Alternately warm, sharp, and deeply wise... Scathingly funny." 

– Entertainment Weekly

"Vacuum in the Dark is wacky, wicked and funny on the surface but roiling below with danger and deep seriousness. Beagin’s writing style is breezy and light, and Mona is delightful and witty. This makes for enjoyable reading but ensures that the punches the book packs are hard-driving and always on target. Mona is refreshingly honest and heartbreakingly hurt. Beagin allows her protagonist to be strange and charming, sexual and smart, even as she forces Mona to confront pain, loss and uncertainty. This is a very good, original and human-hearted novel."

– Book Reporter

"Rib-ticklingly funny-sad... [Beagin] works magic in the space between hilarity and heartbreak... Absurdly affecting."

– O, the Oprah Magazine, a Best Book of 2018

“How can you resist a love story in which the object of desire is named Mr. Disgusting? Like Denis Johnson, Jen Beagin is able to find humanity and wonder (and yes, love) in some of the most forlorn and hopeless corners of our world.”

– Tom Perrotta, author of Mrs. Fletcher and The Leftovers

"Pretend I'm Dead by Jen Beagin is like one of those old-fashioned classics by Charles Bukowski or John Fante or, more recently, Denis Johnson, a shambling, lyrical dispatch from the dive bars and the flop houses where the downtrodden, divested of hope, livelihood, good health, and any number of other markers of respectability, nevertheless retain full possession of their hearts and minds, their integrity, their souls, too, perhaps--and no one nearly as triumphantly as Mona Boyle, Beagin's heart-breaking hero & alter-ego. Rare is the encounter with such a frank and unflinching voice reporting from life on the edge, and rarer still the humor and compassion that Beagin manages to locate in some of the country's, and the psyche's, darkest corners. This book invaded my dreams, took over my conversation, and otherwise seduced me totally."

– Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End

"Jen Beagin has one of the freshest voices I've read in years - funny, wise, whip-smart and compassionate. I tore through Pretend I'm Dead with a deep sense of  affection for all of its beautifully flawed characters and their bittersweet lives."

– Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins and All Grown Up

"Pretend I’m Dead is funny, weird, disturbing, and just a touch magical. Mona, our main character, is such fabulous company, even when she wants everyone in her life to leave her alone. Jen Beagin’s novel will stare you down, mesmerize you, and dare you to laugh."

– Annie Hartnett, author of Rabbit Cake

"With her droll humor and hilarious (but also earnest) observations, the 24-year-old narrator of Pretend I’m Dead had us hooked from page one. Mona gets by cleaning houses; in her free time, she hands out clean needles to heroin junkies. She is adrift; a dreamer without the fuel to make her dreams real. Pretend I’m Dead follows Mona as she moves to a new city, through a few relationships. But reciting the plot doesn’t do the book justice. Glide through Mona’s series of bad decisions with her – she’s a good companion."

– Refinery 29, a Best Book of 2018

"Beagin's work has been compared to Denis Johnson, which is high praise indeed, and totally deserved based on this smart, funny, darkly profound debut."

– Nylon

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