Percy is pregnant. She hasn’t told a soul. Probably she should tell her husband―certainly she means to―but one night she wakes up to find she no longer recognizes him. Now, instead of sleeping, Percy is spending her nights taking walks through her neighborhood, all the while fretting over her marriage, her impending motherhood, and the sinister ways the city is changing.
... a novel that makes for propulsive reading despite having relatively little forward motion, its plot tending less to arc than—pace critic Jane Alison—to meander and spiral, then explode ... Stevens’s vivid, swerving sentences stage bracing dramas ... For some writers, a terrorist attack and an unplanned pregnancy would be enough narrative fodder for a spare, lyrical novel composed largely of interiority. Not for Stevens, who packs in a crash course in art history; asides about the early internet’s false promises of freedom and anonymity; a New York coming-of-age story; and a supporting cast that includes a self-help author, a psychic, and a neighbor who disappears. Unsurprisingly, keeping all these people occupied leads to a couple of cul-de-sac subplots and some surfeits of quirk. But I admire that Stevens is willing to take risks, and—crucially—all her highest-stakes gambles pay off ... The Exhibition of Persephone Q is a resonant and uncanny novel ... Jessi Jezewska Stevens is a promising, persuasive new writer, and I will be surprised if this doesn’t turn out to be one of the strongest debut novels of 2020.
Stevens’s writing proves that both time and technology are best understood in retrospect, sequences made logical long after each moment has passed. The novel has a romantic slowness, unfurling gracefully, little by little, to show how quickly the present gives way to the future, or concedes to the past. A book about newlyweds is almost by necessity also a book about breakups ... Always a little too early or a little too late, Percy is caught between anticipation and dread; she knows only that change might come suddenly, or it might come slowly, but either way she will have to recognize what’s right in front of her face.
... a short, meandering book ... one waits for [Percy] to run into someone special or happen upon an epiphany that snaps her out of this benumbed state. But when such a revelation comes, Percy hardly changes at all ... She only considers herself ... Percy's solipsism is undoubtedly one of Stevens' main preoccupations, but it's also the book's biggest weakness ... Persephone Q is in many ways a character study of a woman who refuses to settle, much less coalesce into a compelling character. 'I never love where I am, I would always rather be somewhere else,' Percy says. It's much to the novel's detriment that we'd often rather be somewhere else, too, and with someone else ... Percy, for all her quirks and navel-gazing, is ultimately a dull and impassive character. Only she finds herself interesting, or at least wants to ... Persephone Q is a little bundle of curiosities with limited appeal. Stevens' prose style is promising – this is clearly the work of a talented writer – and yet much of the writing is stunted by an odd, dreamy formality that reeks of an MFA workshop. It's not Percy's flatness that fails the book, but her lack of perspective.