The Autobiography of Jenny X
The Autobiography of Jenny X is amazing. Every time you think you know what is going to happen, author Lisa Dierbeck takes the story in a different, exciting direction. Using a well-known starting off point, Dierbeck opens up a whole new world.
The book switches between three narrators: Nadia Orsini, a photographer with a beautiful family, gorgeous house, and happy marriage; Dan Orsini, her driven, doctor husband; and Christopher Benedict, the former hippie, current incarcerated convict. Dan finds letters from Christopher addressed to “Jenny X,” and in his mind, his perfect marriage falls apart. The same letters cause Nadia to go to great lengths to ensure secrets stay hidden. To Christopher, the letters give him hope for the future, and a connection to his past. The lives of the three are connected in more intimate ways than any of them are comfortable with, and mere possibility of that connection causes all three of them to act out of character. Using the turmoil of the ‘60s as the beginning and through the ostensible mystery of who Jenny X is, Dierbeck takes the story someplace unexpected.
Each of these characters is a vivid person, with deep internal lives and powerful, relatable emotions. Dan, a man so used to being in control, panics when he realizes his wife has kept secrets from him. At first, he assumes she is cheating on him, but when he finds the first Jenny X letter, he realizes it may be much worse. Christopher, in prison for the majority of the story, is a relic of the ‘60s idealism. Prison calcified him, and when he is released, judges the world and everyone he knows by the same ‘60s ideals. Dierbeck gives the reader a view of culture shock to the extreme. As their story unfolds, all three reveal hidden depth as the novel goes on. It becomes very difficult to guess what any of them are going to do.
Nadia is the most interesting character in a novel full of them. Discovering who she truly is becomes the key to the story. Parts of the story are narrated by her, but she is still a bit of a mystery. Her connection to Jenny X is not apparent at first, despite how obvious it seems to be. She never becomes a cliché, even when her emotions and actions are familiar. She reacts completely naturally, but still in surprising ways. She has depth in spades.
The Autobiography of Jenny X is an incredible book. Dierbeck took the cliché of the ‘60s and weaved a mystery that takes them to their obvious ends without making the plot line as obvious. Highly recommended.