The Visitors by Jessi Jezewska Stevens is a novel that also ingeniously conjures the spiny claws of capitalism. Our protagonist is C, a once-successful artist, living in the wake of the 2008 financial crash in an alternative version of New York. C’s life is unfurling – from both the city’s demands, and her own self-destructive impulses.
One evening in her cramped flat, she is visited by a gnome-like creature. At first, it is a disturbing, poltergeist-ish presence. Later on, her visitor becomes a comforting companion in her time of crisis. C is choked by debt, her medical bills racking up after an agonising hysterectomy. She has stopped weaving acclaimed artworks and instead runs a failing arts shop. She wonders if having a baby would have been more worthwhile, speaking to the pressures placed on women artists.
The whims of rich, white female friends contribute to C’s isolation. Stevens reckons with the charged intimacy of C’s relationship with Zoja, a wealthy stockbroker, who also emigrated to America from Slovenia as a girl. They grew up as close neighbours and their shared, sometimes traumatic, history haunts C in her longing for a true home. As her mind, body and finances unravel, so does the world outside. She hungrily consumes news about the exploits of GoodNite, a hacktivist collective attempting to sabotage the national power grid. C’s visitor explains the technological details of the hacks with gnomic relish. He appears to be one of various glitches afoot in the novel – inky black squares appear at intervals, featuring codified prose constellations.
In this depiction of a society unhinged, The Visitors is conceptually bold. Stevens threads through needles of political theory so deftly you barely feel them piercing the brain. Her work calmly suggests this: the apocalypse is coming for us all, baby – so, what are you doing about it?
Annie Hayter is a writer and poet