Married Rick Zurita, 1994. Education: Received M.A. degree (psychology) and M.A. (liberal studies and twentieth-century literature).
Psychologist and writer. Washington Heights Community Service of New York State Psychiatric Institute, coordinator of training and research. Before graduate school worked at Sony Ridge Winery, 1982; first job as research scientist, started 1987.
New Voice Fiction Award, Francine Prose.
Narcissus Ascending, Picador USA (New York, NY), 2002.
First short story published in 2000.
A psychiatrist who specializes in the study of HIV and severe mental illness, Karen McKinnon has also published short fiction and the novel Narcissus Ascending. The novel, which was inspired by The Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch, is about a group of friends who met in college and have reunited in New York's East Village. The four are in their twenties and share the experience of having been hurt by a once-mutual friend, Callie. The narrator, Becky, is an artist who is about to have her first big exhibition of photo collage self-portraits. Her best friend is Dalhia, a dancer. The occasion has brought Hugh, who was once Callie's boyfriend, and Max, who has dated all three women, back into their lives. All still feel used by the beautiful and manipulative Callie, which convinces Dahlia that Becky's show is the perfect opportunity for revenge. She wants to show Callie how happy they are without her. When Becky is finally persuaded to go along with the plan, it results in a dramatic collision between her and Callie. These events are described by Becky in a kind of colloquial shorthand that uses short sentences and no quotation marks.
McKinnon's unconventional narration in Narcissus Ascending is one of the novel's strongest elements, according to reviewers. A Publishers Weekly writer noted that the "fast-paced story" features writing that is "exquisitely economical"; the book's ending was described as its weakness, as the story is said to drop into "adolescent melodrama." Similarly, Los Angeles Times critic Mark Rozzo felt that the "promising" exploration of Callie's—and then Becky's—emerging narcissism does not reach its full potential. In the New York Times Book Review Sarah Haight called the story "an occasionally moving examination of the torturous dynamic" between friends. Haight also commended McKinnon's writing, calling it "raw and knowing."
Even stronger praise came from a Kirkus Reviews critic, who described Narcissus Ascending as having "the breathtaking, self-important, urgency of youth" and classed it as "a gripping, revealing, entertaining debut." In a review for Curled up with a Good Book, Kristi Bowen said that the "stream-of-consciousness narrative and dialogue …give the novel a swiftness and immediacy which works with its subject." She assessed it as "an exciting read." Booklist's Kristine Huntley called the novel "taut and fast-paced" and commented that it "offers both insight into an artist's mind and an insightful portrait of the dynamics of a group of friends." In the Philadelphia Inquirer, Carlin Romano credited the author with drafting "a sly face-off between art world ethics and aesthetics." He enjoyed the book as "an ambitious pentathlon," in which "much of the pleasure …emerges from Becky's casual psychologizing."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 2002, Kristine Huntley, review of Narcissus Ascending, p. 1687.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2002, review of Narcissus Ascending, p. 466.
Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2002, Mark Rozzo, review of Narcissus Ascending, p. 14.
New York Times Book Review, July 14, 2002, Sarah Haight, review of Narcissus Ascending, p. 20.
Publishers Weekly, June 3, 2002, review of Narcissus Ascending, p. 62.
Curled up with a Good Book Web site,http://curledup.com/ (2002), Kristi Bowen, review of Narcissus Ascending.
Philadelphia Inquirer onlinehttp://philly.com/ (June 30, 2002), Carlin Romano, review of Narcissus Ascending.