We learn of Liselle’s “assistant” Jimena, who was supposed to help out with the party but sent her daughter Xochitl instead. Lisell can’t pronounce Xochitl’s name and asks the young woman – Ph.D. student and immigration rights activist – to defrost mushroom tarts. So paying Jimena, an old woman with bad knees, to clean her bathroom and fill the dishwasher seems odd, too. Thinking of her employees, she imagines herself as “the Black mistress of a small plantation” or “dressed in a hoop skirt and swinging her lace fan across a bay, in Xochitl from the wrong side of history.” Then again, Liselle doesn’t want to scrub the bathroom herself.
His thoughts always turn to Selena. Selena lives with her mother and works two jobs, while Liselle climbs the socioeconomic ladder and is now gracious stewardess to the “menacingly boring” lawyers at Winn’s firm. He is wearing a ripped sweatshirt. His boss at a job tells him he’s a “3D black person trying to fit in a 2D box”. Its primary task is to maintain chemical stability; her routine consists of work, medication, therapy, mint tea, sleep, repetition. When Lisell calls Selena’s mother and leaves a message, the balance that Selena is staring at is upset.
An ongoing theme of the novel is the misidentification of Liselle, both by others and herself. No one can say his name correctly. Some call it “Liesl”, others “Lysol”; while her mother-in-law goes with “Lisa”, her mother-in-law descends to “Lisette” a little closer to her destination. The question that sparked the phone call is whether Liselle had given up on recognition forever when she gave up on Selena. She dated girls as a young woman and studied Audre Lorde and gained a reputation as an icy temptress. At 41, she fears her mother, is bullied by her friends, and is insecure about her thinning hair. Worst of all, it has adopted the habit of politicians to refer to people as “the people”.
Liselle’s call to Selena takes place in the first few pages of the book, just before dinner begins, so we meet our heroine just at the moment when the life of Potemkin becomes unbearable. What exactly this movement triggers is revealed throughout a very concise novel that reminds me of one of those wrinkle-free travel suits that magically expands from a folded cube into a wearable. Solomon’s novel is an engineering marvel. It’s also a dream, “Mrs. Dalloway” and a love story. In Liselle, Solomon invented a character in water-clear prose that comes to mind in HD with anxieties, jokes, memories, anger, and survival instincts.