Executive Times






2005 Book Reviews


Here Kitty Kitty by Jardine Libaire


Rating: (Recommended)




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The images of Jardine Libaire’s debut novel, Here Kitty Kitty, can be hazy, and her fine writing hooks readers into moving from one paragraph to the next to read her ways of describing the life of a 20 something female protagonist, Lee, struggling to live and party in New York City. Almost every character in this novel grieves some loss, and readers know that Lee has made and will make bad choices in the way she lives. There’s a clash between the beauty of Libaire’s words and the ugliness she describes.


Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 4, pp. 87-95:


I drank at every vine.

The last was like the first.

I came upon no wine

So wonderful as thirst.



The estrangement I’d loved the night before crept into morning and alienated me from myself. In Yves’s bathroom, my reflection was a half-finished acrylic portrait by an amateur.

The composition was creepy. Black nail polish picked up black tile, toothpaste in the sink echoed the turquoise burning under the skin of my eye sockets. Negligee askew, the wrinkles unnatura1, crooked. Shoulders greasy as hard-boiled egg. Even my roan hair gleamed redder, ruder, cheaper.

The features didn’t come together to make a face. The clues didn’t combine to tell a story. Mascara-blurred eyes seemed sad, but why? The planes didn’t create a plausible room: dimensions were off, perspective impossible. An unconvincing document, as works of art go.


That night, Camilla was throwing Sam a birthday party. I knew  Camilla from high school. They knew each other from Brown. A painter and a photo rep: I didn’t like either of them. Their loft, in the converted McKibbin Street factory, was a diorama of bohemian life: orange Vespa, candles melting on the floor, paintbrushes in kitchen sink. I wore a trench coat and jeans, pearl earrings, cat eyes; I was on a terrible mission, and I didn’t know it.

Camilla’s sister, Sloane, opened wine while Camilla arranged Stilton, black grapes. Ribbed, snowy neck, fine wrists, and cheeks ripe as cherries. Sloane, who was a filmmaker, also lived here in Bushwick, a helicopter searchlighting the streets even at that mo­ment, but she and Camilla both could have been Westport wives.

Sam rolled a joint at a paint-scabbed worktable. Behind him on the easel, his wife’s portrait of him: sand, pale body in black briefs, gray tide sliding onto canvas. In the painting, Sam’s curly black hair obscured his profile as he bent to examine the legs of the dead horseshoe crab he held by the tail.

In life, now, he hunched in the opposite direction, licking the paper to seal it. The tension between him and his image would make a good photograph, and he knew it, and that was the essence of his art-world life: one successful juxtaposition after another.



I stared at a guy in a Sex Pistols T-shirt and a girl in a gypsy dress, dark hair on her arms like a sensual moss. They didn’t belong at this party. They kissed in front of the factory windows. Their bodies re­flected in the lavender panes: a triptych of valentines.

These two probably made out every morning regardless of dragon breath, hangover, or the stranger sleeping on the air mattress next to them. They got fired over and over from shifty jobs. Lived on peanut butter sandwiches, planned road trips that would never happen, and watched cult movies while roommates ranted on the phone to the landlord. Pissed without shutting the bath­room door. They were playmates. They got their hands dirty. All the stories they told each other were true.



A blond boy sucked the spliff, then coughed and continued hack­ing, blindly holding it out to the crowd. I took a long drag, held it, blew a cloud. Passed it nonchalantly.

Immediately, I went deaf. My skin broke out in sweat, and I felt it turn white. I played with the charm on my bracelet as though it was a toy. The blond boy was splayed on the couch like a tubercu­losis patient taking in the sun.

I drifted away to gaze through the glass. The purple tint deep­ened the heartbroken landscape. In the junkyard, the white Sunny-dale milk truck tilted like a shipwreck. Next to it, a dirt backyard. On the porch, a dog threw itself against the restraint of its chain, barking up at us.

When I recovered enough composure, I poured whiskey into a cup. I took my third piece of cake to the couch. Looked left then right, and unbuttoned the top of my jeans.

Took a fresh whiskey with me to the record player. Lifted the needle midsong.

“I put that on.” The blond kid pouted. “It was my favorite.”

I handed it to him so he could put it back into the jacket. I smiled in a way I hoped would comfort him, and winked. “I think you were alone, there, sailor. You’re putting us all to sleep.”

Two men stood under the turquoise lantern, the glowing paper painted with orange flowers on black branches. Hands in pockets, the strangers looked Germanic and severe, with boldly sculpted I faces, sunken eyes.

I walked up, beaming, hands on hips. “My name is Lee,” I said brightly. “Flirt with me.”

I don’t know what I was in the middle of telling them, but I vaguely sensed one of them gesturing to someone. Their friend joined us. I introduced myself to him. Then, with theatrical reluc­tance, he said they all really had to get going.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” I said.

The other two agreed, waving good-bye to me as if I were a child, and they moved to the other side of the room.



The blond boy’s eyes were glazed blue slits. I kicked his foot. Come with me.

He opened his eyes a millimeter.

“Did you kick me?” he asked.

“No,” I said.

On the street, an Isuzu truck was burned out, its charred doors open like wings.

“I don’t like coke,” he whined.

“Shut up,” I said, and held my key under his nostril. Laughter from the window upstairs fell down through dark­ness, and a couple straggled out through the stairwell, a piece of cake on a paper plate in his hands, a ratty fur thrown around her bare shoulders. She stopped and swayed, pressing powder to her chin in a mirror while he watched.

I kissed the blond boy with my eyes open.



I stumbled up a few flights. Knocked where I heard music. A man opened the door. His black hair was spiked, eyes lined in electric blue. He asked if the music was too loud.

“No, no,” I mumbled. “Came to get my coat.”

“Came to get your coat,” he repeated doubtfully.

“I’m leaving,” I explained, working to form words. “I gotta get my coat.”

At this, he smiled, with his mouth at least, not his eyes. “Come on in and get your coat, then, honey.”

After the door closed and I was standing in the middle of the loft, it finally hit me I was in the wrong apartment.

A cheap standing lamp did little, and most of the space lay in shadow. Inside the gold circle, two white kids slumped on a tartan couch, sneakers propped on a coffee table littered with smoldering ashtrays, tinfoil, soda cans.

“Sit down,” the man said. “I insist,” he said, when I started to object.

A short-haired dog kept nuzzling my crotch, and the man watched me push him away.

“He likes you,” he said.

No one spoke. So I looked around the loft. Two kids were sleeping on a pink mattress. In the corner, a gaunt black girl played Atari, but she seemed not to be connecting the movements her hands made on the joystick to the Pac-Man in the maze.

“I have a question,” I said to the host.

I’d tried heroin many times, but only in dreams. My sleeping mind would send me drifting like a doll through hallways, along highways, on what I just knew was an accurate ride. My soul was somehow acquainted with that high, as if it were my own sea level, an equilibrium to achieve.

“What are you guys doing?” I asked meaningfully.

I asked, knowing that with this substance, for some reason, the game would be forfeited. I would never get to fall in love. I would never learn to belong to the world. I might live for many years, of course, but it would be the end of me.

He narrowed red eyes, then examined his blue fingernails, flak­ing off some polish.

“Would you share?” I said.

He looked up, scanned my body as if he might want to have sex with me, even though I knew he didn’t.

“I think you’re lost, darling,” he said.

They all looked. Finally the man jerked his thumb at the door. “Best way out is the way you came in,” he said.



Then I walked, coatless, down Bushwick Avenue. Tears. Streaks of mascara down my cheeks. Stopped at a bodega for a forty of Olde En­glish, and the man who bagged my bottle actually asked if I was okay. “Chu okay, huhn-ney?” I passed packs of men in do-rags, slumped on bikes or assembled around the open doors of vans, Jay-Z and Out­Kast cranked up. None of them leered. They were afraid of me, in a way. “Oh, shit,” they murmured, and gave me room to pass.

I chugged the beer, threw the bottle down an empty street, cherished its smash on asphalt. Stopped at the deli next to my place, bought a big white Entenmann’s cake and another forty, and perched on my stoop.

At four in the morning, I somehow made it to Black Betty. Picked up a kid from Tijuana. He lived in a honeycomb of rooms, his bed separated from the next by a Bart Simpson beach towel hung from the ceiling. Prep-cook uniform, soiled, by the door.

“You’re all fucked up, little girl,” he said, watching me tangle my shirt around my neck. He pinched my nipple without real in­terest. When I offered to buy a condom at the bodega, he let me go alone. He knew I wouldn’t be back.

Woke up in my own bed, pillowcase wet with puke that smelled of malt liquor and coconut icing.



The B.Q.E. exit outside my building was the last before the bridge to Manhattan. All evening, I sat by my window. Dully, I watched pairs of cars pull onto the service road like mating dragonflies. Dealer in front, buyer in back.



That night, I went to the Laundromat and watched TV while my clothes sloshed in circles. On COPS, police chased a woman with a yellow mullet through construction, and she scrambled under a half-built house like a hunted dog. She started digging into red mud between pillars. The cameraman followed, the film jiggling, belt buckle scraping earth. When they caught up, her hands were bloodied, white shorts filthy.

“Are you on something, ma’am?” they drawled over and over. I could have been an episode last night, I thought. Redhead in

a bodega, eyeliner drawn down into Harlequin daggers, looking at white cake. Swaying, she picked it up, dropped it, frosting stuck to the cellophane window.

I’d always believed an innocent attitude made events innocent. I’d survived debaucheries, and afterward even felt that the girl in her white Sunday dress inside me had been renewed, forged in the fire one more time. I now doubted that mechanism. I now doubted myself. Innocence was finite and could not be regenerated. Like spinal fluid. I knew this because I had run out.




Taking reservations on the phone, I avoided Kelly’s gaze. Tapping the pen on the book, I cringed, wondering what he saw when he looked at me.

When I was little, I’d had so many ambitions. I saw them lined up like Barbies in boxes, accessories rubber-banded to their plastic wrists. Lee the fireman. Lee the trapeze artist. Lee the ballerina. When I really thought about it, though, I’d never planned on being anything, which is natural, I guess, for a child. I’d dreamed of being this or that, but never thought through to becoming anything. My first dream was to be a nurse, but that had to do with a hat no one wore anymore. And now my dream of being a painter was looking just as juvenile.

Kelly ate an apple, reading a newspaper, standing as he always did as if lunging into while pushing away from the bar. He grinned at me, and I smiled meekly at the apple.

Painting had been the only way to crystallize, distill, and change ordinary life. It had been alchemy. But at some point I’d lost the trick. I’d taken such bad care of myself that I was no longer talented. I had a feeling it was gone forever.

So many land mines in this new territory called adulthood. Tal­ent has a window. Freedom sometimes becomes a trap. We may die before we finish our dreams. Actually, that we die is a pretty big sur­prise by itself. We can’t spend innocence without accounting. Relationships are contracts. We partner not just for love but because we become too weak to make it alone.


Readers interested in finding a new lyrical voice will find much to admire in Jardine Libaire’s Here Kitty Kitty.


Steve Hopkins, December 20, 2004



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the January 2005 issue of Executive Times

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