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5 December 2004

Tsipi Keller's new novel Jackpot is a skillfully plotted story of a character's unravelling, so gradual and inexorable that you move from comfort level to comfort level without realizing how uncomfortable you're getting, like the proverbial frog in the pot.

Maggie, Keller's central character, is a copy-editor for a New York textbook publisher. Divorced, living in bare accommodations, she is dissatisfied with her life. She alternately emulates and envies her friend Robin, who is well-off, better-employed, and socially adept.

So when Robin proposes that Maggie share a vacation with her in the Bahamas, Maggie jumps at the chance. She isn't quite sure what she wants from this vacation. Sex, sun, sea, and slot machines are on the menu, but so is her attractive and mercurial friend.

And then things fall apart. Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice to say that by the time Maggie's world stops turning, the falcon is way out of earshot of the falconer.

One thinks, oddly enough, of The House of Mirth. Though Maggie doesn't have to fall as far as Lily Bart, she falls in the same curious stepwise fashion, and wonders where it all came undone. One thinks, too – continuing the theme of the American fallen-woman novel – of The Awakening, not least because Natan Nuchi's cover art shows Maggie staring out to an empty sea.

But Jackpot is very much a postmodern fallen-woman novel, without any of the moral and social anxieties that characterize even as modernist a work as The Awakening. It shares some energies and motifs with Paul Griner's Collectors, a novel that also chronicles a woman's self-destructive descent.

Keller, Tsipi. Jackpot. New York: Spuyten Duyvil, 2004.