I have a strong hunch that Amanda Filipacchi and I were separated at birth. Granted, we were born in different decades and on different continents, but I’m about 97% certain that this is the case. Why I have not read her till just now is really a shame. She is quick, funny, absurd, and daring. Often readers (especially those who declare themselves “exclusive readers of literary fiction”) have a hard time opening their reader’s mind to bold narratives that are out of the ordinary, that keenly twiddle the knife of humor and the bizarre.
Vapor is a strange interpretation of Pygmalion (think George Bernard Shaw). Filipacchi has taken the premise of the play and turned it upside down, inside out, and chopped it up to make a cutting novel that will appeal to lovers of books like Catch-22 and the works of Kurt Vonnegut.
Anna Graham is an acting student in New York City, who is told by her instructor that she will never be much of an actor and perhaps, she should consider letting another more excellent student use her name as the other’s stage name. She takes it hard, but Anna considers what she should do about, because she will not quit acting,
“For months I had been trying to be less myself. This effort extended to every aspect of my life, including my personal tastes and opinions. I wanted to be pliable like warm wax. I began to admire vague people.”
Out late one night, Anna is down in the subway dressed in a garish fairy queen costume when a lone man is being attacked down on the tracks. She takes her industrial strength pepper spray and saves the man from his attackers. Anna becomes oddly entranced by Damon and hopes he calls her to thank her for coming to his aid. Filipacchi draws Anna as a strange, unreal person. Her reactions are odd and can’t possibly live off the page, but that doesn’t matter. Her oddities and perceptions are what make her such an engaging character.
Even with all of her eccentricities, Anna doesn’t compare to Damon. He wears only see-through clothing, giving up on opaque clothes ages ago, he’s very particular about the pH balance of his bottled water, and he’s a cloud scientist who fabricates small clouds that fit in rooms. Also, he decides to kidnap Anna and keep her in a cage. His rationale is to whip her into shape to become an excellent actress. She is obstinate, of course, as one would be if they were being held in a cage and forced to act out scenes with their captor.
There are so many layers to this novel. Filippachi is entirely successful in presenting such off characters engaging in unexpected and fantastic behavior. The prose is so effortless as you read each chapter wondering what could possibly happen next. I’m hesitant to give any more of the plot away as there are far more twists that are taken and excellent characters squeezing their way out onto the page.
This comic novel takes a strange look at the Pygmalion myth that has so permeated our culture and literature. It can be read for it’s unique look at the female form and what is expected of women in entertainment. Bluntly, Vapor is hilarious even during the most absurd moments. I found myself laughing at many of Filipacchi’s sentences and for her whip smart narrative, which should be enough for any reader.
Vapor was recently re-released by Open Road Media (who has also re-released the rest of her previous novels). I was a bit bummed to read that a film adaptation by the playwright Neil LaBute was cancelled some years ago. Has anyone else read Amanda Filipacchi before or are you late to the party like me?