Karen McKinnon's Narcissus Ascending is a web of a tale stretching between four different people, all of them scarred by their relationship with Callie: a selfish, dramatic, narcissist who apparently seeks to manipulate and destroy everyone around her. Told from the point of view of Becky, an artist on the verge of her first opening, the novel follows her three friends, Dahlia, Hugh, and Max, as they plot a strange revenge scenario. Piece by piece they create, through individual narratives, a rather unflattering portrait of Callie, who we do not meet as readers until the last quarter of the novel. After their plan backfires, Becky becomes involved in a power struggle with Callie over her friends -- a struggle with disastrous consequences.
McKinnon sets up the characters of Becky and Callie in direct opposition to each other, each woman defined in essence by her difference from the other. The idea of narcissicism, be it through Becky's shocking self-portraits, Callie's self-love, or the entire group's fixation upon themselves, forms the core of the novel.
The story becomes a struggle between Callie and Becky, both sexually and platonically, resulting in an ultimate confrontation, which leaves both women isolated from the others.
McKinnon's stream-of-consciousness narrative and dialogue take some getting used to, but give the novel a swiftness and immediacy which works with its subject. The characters and their relationship to each other is initially confusing, but the novel's stylistic innovation pushes the reader into the flow of the narrative. The plot structure soars, carrying the reader rapidly through to the end, making Narcisssus Ascending an exciting read.