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Ellipses

A Novel

Author Vanessa Lawrence On Tour
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Hardcover
$28.00 US
| $37.99 CAN
On sale Mar 05, 2024 | 288 Pages | 978-0-593-47277-4
Set in the glossy world of New York City media, this sharp and witty debut novel follows a young woman caught in a toxic mentorship with an older, powerful executive as she grapples with career, belonging, and the complexity of modern relationships in the digital age.

Named a Best Book of 2024 So Far by Vogue, Elle, and Electric Lit
One of Autostraddle's Most Anticipated Queer Books for Spring 2024 
One of Chill Subs's 38 Books We Can't Wait to Read

 
When cosmetics mogul Billie rolls down her town car window and offers Lily a ride home from a glitzy Manhattan gala, Lily figures this could be a useful professional connection. She’s heard of Billie’s storied rise as a business titan, the product of white New England privilege and one of the few queer women in a corner suite. Billie could be just the jolt Lily needs to manifest her next step.
 
A magazine writer, Lily interviews influencers, actresses, and fashion designers for her publication’s stylish pages, all while navigating office microaggressions. Stalled at work, she worries that her dream print career will soon succumb to the rise of social media. She is at a standstill, too, in her relationship with her girlfriend Alison. And Lily feels unable to voice her authenticity when others’ sliding perceptions of her mixed race and bisexual identity repeatedly drown her out.
 
Charming and hyperconfident, Billie seems invested in mentoring Lily out of her slump, from the screen of her phone. But their text exchanges and Billie’s relentless worldview begin to consume Lily’s life. Eager to impress her powerful guide, Lily is perpetually suspended in an ellipsis, waiting for those three gray dots to bloom into a new message from Billie.
 
Ellipses explores one woman’s struggle for wholeness, in a world shaped by digital half-lives and aspirational fantasies. In the end, this stunning debut novel reveals the rewards and challenges of forging an uncharted path on one’s own terms.
Prologue
REPUTATIONS CAN BE a nightmare to maintain. New York’s inhabitants should know. For decades, they had lived in a city that supposedly never slept, an expectation that requires perpetual exhaustion. Not every neighborhood complied in upholding this image. On a Wednesday night just past two a.m., the Upper West Side residents along a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue were all deep into their Ambien dreams. A plant shop and a Thai joint and a liquor store were unlit. The bright pink neon sign for a dive bar was the only marker of the city’s wired status.
Though no traditionalist, Lily was as wide awake as she had ever been. She stood across from a church on Amsterdam Avenue and stared resolutely at her phone’s screen. She willed the rideshare car she had requested to move a little bit faster. Lily hadn’t planned to leave the apart‑ ment at this  hour;   she should have been in bed like her fellow Upper West Siders. Tomorrow was an important day. But an overwhelming restlessness had built in the pit of her stomach for weeks,  months;   if she was honest, for over a year. This  desire—  this  need—  had compelled her out of her pajamas and into a pair of jeans, a camisole, dirty white sneakers, and a hooded parka to shield her from the November cold. This need had wrested control of her fingers, tapped out the address into the rideshare phone app. And it had instructed her to slip down the many flights of stairs to her building’s front door.
Never before had Lily been so excited to dress for an evening out. This was the night that would mark Lily’s future days as indelibly After.
Hours earlier, Lily had sat, cocooned in a blanket in the armpit of her sofa, and contemplated her notepad, cluttered with story pitches,  display‑  copy ideas, and content rubrics. Her pen had hovered over the page, waiting for another spark. Her eyes had drifted over to her laptop screen, to the pages and pages of text she had dreamed up from the raw material of her imagination. This was where her mind yearned to be. Lily had shoved the pen and notepad aside and drawn her laptop in closer. Its keys had  click‑  clacked with the vigor of her efforts. She had unwrapped herself from the confines of her blanket and tossed that out of the way, too.
For months, Lily had subjugated her instincts to B’s directives. Lily had shushed her intrinsic reticence, the better to manifest B’s signature  self‑  assertion. She had done all that B had commanded. In the process, Lily had watched the pointer of her inner compass spin frantically, as though possessed, until it threatened to snap off in the whirling vortex of B’s special storm. After so many sacrifices in the name of s elf‑ actualization, Lily had finally reached a decision. Her next chapter was six miles of dark streets away. She knew the exact words that would usher in the life that was hers to make.
Lily’s fingers had flown across her keyboard. The page count on the document had grown and grown. With each additional paragraph, Lily’s posture had lengthened. A brisk energy had coursed through her arms and legs. When she had determined that she was  finished, via an inner mechanism whose logic made sense only to  her,   she had closed her laptop and bounded toward her closet. Outside, the dark night beckoned her to a pivotal choice. A tremor ran down Lily’s torso as a black car approached her street corner. The license plate matched the one listed in the app, so she opened the door and leaned in.
“Who are you picking up?” she asked the young  guy—the app claimed his name was  Chad—  seated behind the wheel.
“Lily,” he replied, and she got in.
The car reeked of  lemon‑scented disinfectant; the leather seats were immaculate. A warmth spread through Lily’s chest and her pulse quick‑ ened in the curve of her neck. “Mind if I open the window?” she asked.
“Go for it,” Chad replied.
Lily stared out the window as the car sped toward its downtown destination, few obstacles in its path on the gaping streets. Chad headed along  Ninety‑Sixth Street to the West Side Highway, a clogged artery during the daytime. Now theirs was an unobstructed vehicular endeavor, as though the barriers to Lily’s future happiness had parted with the tap of a finger. The Hudson River and New Jersey’s shore rushed by in a blur.
A tingling buzz filled Lily’s stomach and lungs and head. She un‑ crossed her legs and planted her feet firmly on the car’s carpeted floor. The mere possibility that B had sensed her movement through some telepathic intervention nudged Lily to check her silent phone, in the pocket of her parka, for any notifications. Lily ignored this impulse. Patiently, she waited for the real deal.
Lily could remember a time before B, a time when a phone was a means of communication instead of a chasm of unreciprocated attention. When a dinner with a friend was a chance to catch up, not a dis‑ traction from the endless wait for a reply. When her waking hours were for charting her future course, not for plotting ways to follow someone else’s path. B had been in charge all along. And she had no compunctions about keeping Lily at arm’s length, to a degree that made Lily question why B bothered with her at all.
In fact, B had informed Lily, early in their text correspondence, of the motive behind her digital outreach. “I love to mentor young women,” she had typed, after doling out a nugget of empowering advice. “It’s a passion.” Which, of course, had made Lily wonder how many other young women B was simultaneously mentoring. How widespread her  self‑  described passion ran. And then a few months of  tough‑ l ove pep talks had swept away these concerns before Lily pondered, again, why a woman of B’s stature would have chosen Lily as a receptacle for her wis‑ dom. Squeeze and release. Squeeze and release. The  pressure‑  valve turns of their rapport could have put a metronome out of business.
Lily had tried to explain her strange pull toward B to her best friends and even to herself. Everyone else saw B’s poise and power. They watched her navigate boardrooms and public appearances with preternatural ease. They charted her ascension to the highest ranks of corporate America as an organic progression. Lily snuck a peek behind the velvet curtain. She had unfettered access to someone most people could only reach through a magazine or a screen. Well, to be fair, Lily went through a screen, too, but her screen was different; her screen was more trans‑ parent than everyone else’s. Her view was closer. And tonight, she was going to break down any remaining walls.
Chad exited the West Side Highway at Canal Street and headed southeast toward Tribeca. He made a few circuitous turns around the neighborhood’s uninhabited streets before he stopped on Duane Street in front of an industrial building with a  cast‑iron façade. “This is you,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Lily.
“You take care,” said Chad.
“Yeah, be well,” said Lily, and shut the door behind her.
She examined the illuminated panel of buzzers for each of the building’s apartments. Lily pressed the bell for the penthouse and stepped back a few feet. If she stood too close it would telegraph her overeagerness.
“Hello?” came a voice from the buzzer’s speaker. “Who’s there?” “It’s me. Lily,” said Lily.
“Lily?” came the voice. “What the fuck are you doing here? Are you crazy?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Are you really that surprised?”
A pause. Lily waited for B to say something. She could feel B plot her next move.
Lily wasn’t a natural gambler; she had never had a taste for putting it all on the line. She was always methodical in her quest for what she wanted. She believed in legwork and progressions, not divine windfalls. But it was no longer good enough to wish for an ideal hand and let the cards steer her in whichever direction they chose. She had waited for the perfect moment to place her bet, to unleash the full force of her ideas and desires on the right person, the right job, the right circumstances for success. She had bided her time, so as not to go bankrupt for the wrong opportunity. But stasis carried its own set of risks. And now her stores of skills and experiences were on the verge of becoming meaning‑ less, her coffers devalued by a change in currency. Whatever amount she had left demanded to be used. Go big or go home. Except home just wasn’t an option.
The door buzzed. Lily pushed it in quickly. Once inside the elevator, she headed up to the penthouse. Like many loft residences, B’s building had one apartment per floor. The elevator reached the penthouse and the door opened into B’s foyer.
B loomed a few feet from the door, where she blocked most of the entrance. She wore loose men’s‑ style pajama bottoms and a white T‑shirt; her shoulder‑length brown hair streaked with gray highlights was wrapped in a haphazard half loop. Her brow was furrowed.
“I still don’t know what the fuck you’re doing here,” she said by way of greeting.
Lily stepped into the room. “I have something I need to tell you,” she said.
“And you couldn’t just send me a text?” B asked.
“It needs to happen in person,” Lily said.
B stared at her intently. The corners of her mouth tugged outward, in a grimace or a smile, it wasn’t clear. She moved to the side.
“Come in.”
 
CHAPTER ONE
 
One year and eight months earlier
LILY AVOIDED HER own reflection in her office’s smudged bathroom mirror. No amount of artful eyeliner or strategic concealer or shim‑ mery highlighter could impart the illusion of vivacity after a  ten‑  hour workday, certainly not in the  green‑  tinged fluorescent lighting. There was no hairdresser on hand to coax her dark strands into some sem‑ blance of elegance. There was no stylist or date to help zip up the back of her dress. All Lily’s hopes for a successful transition from sad cubicle dweller to black‑tie event attendee were pinned on the delicate fabric of her borrowed gown. And its tiny zipper pull refused to budge. Lily con‑ torted her arms into a broken pretzel and tugged at the pull as her face reddened with frustration.
In forty  minutes, theoretically, at l east, Lily would head to an iteration of the  twice‑annual An Unforgettable Evening gala in support of Alzheimer’s disease research. The gala’s slug line was extremely questionable, but the occasion was otherwise par for the course of Lily’s pr fessional social life. A magazine style writer with a partial society beat, she attended the odd cocktail party or dinner or jewelry luncheon from the sprawl of events that keep tony calendars full across the spring and fall seasons in New York. And then she wrote about these outings the following morning so that the people who had gone to them could read about  them—  because no one else read these stories beyond the people who had been at the  parties—  and relive their experiences through the lens of cultural validation. It was an IRL version of  two‑ factor authentication: First one lived the thing, then one made sure it had been real and worthy by consuming someone else’s narration of it. Check, check. A person’s authenticity was intact.
In preparation for the ball, Lily wore a strapless floral dress whose voluminous skirt ended at her ankles. The designer look was a sample that Lily had eyed, a few months ago, as it swished down a runway in an industrial warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. What was a gown on Lily had been a cocktail dress on the model who had worn this exact sample in the show. A person paid to write about society events could not afford the  high‑  end wardrobe the lifestyle  demanded; a decade of squeezing herself into borrowed outfits a size or more too small   had trained Lily’s eyes to reconfigure designer collections to her  non‑  mannequin proportions. She would sit in the fifth row of a fashion show and mentally eliminate looks worn by models with particularly tiny rib cages or waists. Anything that hit a model below her knees was a no‑ go for Lily, who was many inches shy of five foot eleven. Fabrics with stretch were ideal but rare. And a long line of  wedding‑  gown buttons was an instant  dealbreaker. No  twenty‑  first‑  century woman, save for a member of royalty, had the time or handmaids such useless garment closures required.
These borrowed designer dresses were the closest approximations of a Cinderella fantasy that Lily had achieved in the many years of her partygoing employment. Fairy godmothers, though, knew how to tailor their looks before directing their future princesses to don them. Still, the opportunity to wear for a few hours an exquisite item of fashion, however wrongly sized, had not lost its allure, not entirely.  Real‑l  ife fairy tales did not manifest without a certain amount of sacrifice.
The zipper’s boxy carriage would not move further along its metal tracks. Lily dragged it down to its place of inception, near her sacrum, and restarted its upward journey.
Ever since she had turned  thirty,   two whole years  ago,   Lily had striven to rid herself of this partial society beat. It was exhausting and repetitive work, like being stuck in a Groundhog Day of high school winter formals with more expensive venues and equally ruthless mean girls. For the most part, Lily had extricated herself from this nightly grind; there were always younger, eager assistants who had yet to learn that partying with strangers was not the same thing as going out with one’s friends. However, tonight’s Unforgettable Evening had an unusual twist that Lily had felt unable to refuse. She had been specifically invited by one of the gala’s chairs. Normally, Lily was dropped like dirty laun‑ dry onto a vacant dinner seat by a PR person for the event. This eve‑ ning, Lily would sit at one of the gala chairs’ tables, which meant that she was expected to devote extra attention in the next day’s copy to her gracious benefactor, Annabelle Jones.
The zipper carriage of Lily’s gown had reached its earlier sticking point. With one hand, Lily pressed the two tracks together, while she urged the carriage along with her other  hand   and some prayers for good measure.
“A wry and winning debut from Vanessa Lawrence, ELLIPSES charts the course of a mentor-mentee relationship as toxic as it is intoxicating… [Lawrence] deploys her insider fluency with aplomb, describing the microaggressions of office politics as deftly as nepobaby influencers turned vegan caterers.”
Vogue, “The Best Books of 2024 So Far”

“Vanessa Lawrence’s Ellipses… navigates a nuanced conversation about power imbalances; our infatuations with so-called ‘accomplished’ women; and why society seems so incapable of holding intersectional identities in both hands.”
Elle, "The Best and Most Anticipated Fiction Books of 2024, So Far"

“Gracious and insightful.”
Women's Wear Daily

“Make no mistake about Vanessa Lawrence’s immersive debut novel, Ellipses, as being relevant to all women, young and old… Lawrence has crafted fiction that exposes truths without banging them over your head… The novel is a bundle of emotional complexities.”
Lorraine Kleinwaks, Enchanted Prose

“Wildly entertaining and sharply observed, Ellipses is an astonishing and riveting debut novel. Vanessa Lawrence astutely portrays a young woman’s journey of survival in the magazine industry—and New York City—as she navigates the shifting power dynamics among women and charts her own path.”
Sanaë Lemoine, author of NYTimes Editor’s Choice The Margot Affair

“An unflinchingly honest debut about the dizzying stakes of finding selfhood in a society that constantly threatens total consumption. Lawrence’s writing is as lyrical as it is incisive, exposing the bravery it takes to not be complicit in your own oppression. I couldn’t put this down.”
—Ling Ling Huang, author of Natural Beauty

“Vanessa Lawrence’s masterful debut deftly explores the stakes facing a young, queer, Asian female writer navigating the scary waters of the New York magazine world. Every page is a prose treasure, eloquently nailing the pulse of an often ruthless milieu while managing to make us laugh at its excesses and failures.”
Carolyn Ferrell, author of the PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Dear Miss Metropolitan

“In Ellipses, Vanessa Lawrence captures the spirit of a bygone fashion era, whose heady halcyon days she and I were lucky enough to witness as young adults coming up in New York City.”
Victor Glemaud, fashion designer

“A fresh take on power, manipulation, and self-discovery.”
Kirkus
© Flora Hanitijo
Vanessa Lawrence is a writer, editor, and native New Yorker. For nearly two decades she covered the arts, fashion, beauty, design, and New York society on staff for publications including Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine. She has a B.A. in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Ellipses is her debut novel. View titles by Vanessa Lawrence

Discussion Guide for Ellipses

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

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About

Set in the glossy world of New York City media, this sharp and witty debut novel follows a young woman caught in a toxic mentorship with an older, powerful executive as she grapples with career, belonging, and the complexity of modern relationships in the digital age.

Named a Best Book of 2024 So Far by Vogue, Elle, and Electric Lit
One of Autostraddle's Most Anticipated Queer Books for Spring 2024 
One of Chill Subs's 38 Books We Can't Wait to Read

 
When cosmetics mogul Billie rolls down her town car window and offers Lily a ride home from a glitzy Manhattan gala, Lily figures this could be a useful professional connection. She’s heard of Billie’s storied rise as a business titan, the product of white New England privilege and one of the few queer women in a corner suite. Billie could be just the jolt Lily needs to manifest her next step.
 
A magazine writer, Lily interviews influencers, actresses, and fashion designers for her publication’s stylish pages, all while navigating office microaggressions. Stalled at work, she worries that her dream print career will soon succumb to the rise of social media. She is at a standstill, too, in her relationship with her girlfriend Alison. And Lily feels unable to voice her authenticity when others’ sliding perceptions of her mixed race and bisexual identity repeatedly drown her out.
 
Charming and hyperconfident, Billie seems invested in mentoring Lily out of her slump, from the screen of her phone. But their text exchanges and Billie’s relentless worldview begin to consume Lily’s life. Eager to impress her powerful guide, Lily is perpetually suspended in an ellipsis, waiting for those three gray dots to bloom into a new message from Billie.
 
Ellipses explores one woman’s struggle for wholeness, in a world shaped by digital half-lives and aspirational fantasies. In the end, this stunning debut novel reveals the rewards and challenges of forging an uncharted path on one’s own terms.

Excerpt

Prologue
REPUTATIONS CAN BE a nightmare to maintain. New York’s inhabitants should know. For decades, they had lived in a city that supposedly never slept, an expectation that requires perpetual exhaustion. Not every neighborhood complied in upholding this image. On a Wednesday night just past two a.m., the Upper West Side residents along a stretch of Amsterdam Avenue were all deep into their Ambien dreams. A plant shop and a Thai joint and a liquor store were unlit. The bright pink neon sign for a dive bar was the only marker of the city’s wired status.
Though no traditionalist, Lily was as wide awake as she had ever been. She stood across from a church on Amsterdam Avenue and stared resolutely at her phone’s screen. She willed the rideshare car she had requested to move a little bit faster. Lily hadn’t planned to leave the apart‑ ment at this  hour;   she should have been in bed like her fellow Upper West Siders. Tomorrow was an important day. But an overwhelming restlessness had built in the pit of her stomach for weeks,  months;   if she was honest, for over a year. This  desire—  this  need—  had compelled her out of her pajamas and into a pair of jeans, a camisole, dirty white sneakers, and a hooded parka to shield her from the November cold. This need had wrested control of her fingers, tapped out the address into the rideshare phone app. And it had instructed her to slip down the many flights of stairs to her building’s front door.
Never before had Lily been so excited to dress for an evening out. This was the night that would mark Lily’s future days as indelibly After.
Hours earlier, Lily had sat, cocooned in a blanket in the armpit of her sofa, and contemplated her notepad, cluttered with story pitches,  display‑  copy ideas, and content rubrics. Her pen had hovered over the page, waiting for another spark. Her eyes had drifted over to her laptop screen, to the pages and pages of text she had dreamed up from the raw material of her imagination. This was where her mind yearned to be. Lily had shoved the pen and notepad aside and drawn her laptop in closer. Its keys had  click‑  clacked with the vigor of her efforts. She had unwrapped herself from the confines of her blanket and tossed that out of the way, too.
For months, Lily had subjugated her instincts to B’s directives. Lily had shushed her intrinsic reticence, the better to manifest B’s signature  self‑  assertion. She had done all that B had commanded. In the process, Lily had watched the pointer of her inner compass spin frantically, as though possessed, until it threatened to snap off in the whirling vortex of B’s special storm. After so many sacrifices in the name of s elf‑ actualization, Lily had finally reached a decision. Her next chapter was six miles of dark streets away. She knew the exact words that would usher in the life that was hers to make.
Lily’s fingers had flown across her keyboard. The page count on the document had grown and grown. With each additional paragraph, Lily’s posture had lengthened. A brisk energy had coursed through her arms and legs. When she had determined that she was  finished, via an inner mechanism whose logic made sense only to  her,   she had closed her laptop and bounded toward her closet. Outside, the dark night beckoned her to a pivotal choice. A tremor ran down Lily’s torso as a black car approached her street corner. The license plate matched the one listed in the app, so she opened the door and leaned in.
“Who are you picking up?” she asked the young  guy—the app claimed his name was  Chad—  seated behind the wheel.
“Lily,” he replied, and she got in.
The car reeked of  lemon‑scented disinfectant; the leather seats were immaculate. A warmth spread through Lily’s chest and her pulse quick‑ ened in the curve of her neck. “Mind if I open the window?” she asked.
“Go for it,” Chad replied.
Lily stared out the window as the car sped toward its downtown destination, few obstacles in its path on the gaping streets. Chad headed along  Ninety‑Sixth Street to the West Side Highway, a clogged artery during the daytime. Now theirs was an unobstructed vehicular endeavor, as though the barriers to Lily’s future happiness had parted with the tap of a finger. The Hudson River and New Jersey’s shore rushed by in a blur.
A tingling buzz filled Lily’s stomach and lungs and head. She un‑ crossed her legs and planted her feet firmly on the car’s carpeted floor. The mere possibility that B had sensed her movement through some telepathic intervention nudged Lily to check her silent phone, in the pocket of her parka, for any notifications. Lily ignored this impulse. Patiently, she waited for the real deal.
Lily could remember a time before B, a time when a phone was a means of communication instead of a chasm of unreciprocated attention. When a dinner with a friend was a chance to catch up, not a dis‑ traction from the endless wait for a reply. When her waking hours were for charting her future course, not for plotting ways to follow someone else’s path. B had been in charge all along. And she had no compunctions about keeping Lily at arm’s length, to a degree that made Lily question why B bothered with her at all.
In fact, B had informed Lily, early in their text correspondence, of the motive behind her digital outreach. “I love to mentor young women,” she had typed, after doling out a nugget of empowering advice. “It’s a passion.” Which, of course, had made Lily wonder how many other young women B was simultaneously mentoring. How widespread her  self‑  described passion ran. And then a few months of  tough‑ l ove pep talks had swept away these concerns before Lily pondered, again, why a woman of B’s stature would have chosen Lily as a receptacle for her wis‑ dom. Squeeze and release. Squeeze and release. The  pressure‑  valve turns of their rapport could have put a metronome out of business.
Lily had tried to explain her strange pull toward B to her best friends and even to herself. Everyone else saw B’s poise and power. They watched her navigate boardrooms and public appearances with preternatural ease. They charted her ascension to the highest ranks of corporate America as an organic progression. Lily snuck a peek behind the velvet curtain. She had unfettered access to someone most people could only reach through a magazine or a screen. Well, to be fair, Lily went through a screen, too, but her screen was different; her screen was more trans‑ parent than everyone else’s. Her view was closer. And tonight, she was going to break down any remaining walls.
Chad exited the West Side Highway at Canal Street and headed southeast toward Tribeca. He made a few circuitous turns around the neighborhood’s uninhabited streets before he stopped on Duane Street in front of an industrial building with a  cast‑iron façade. “This is you,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Lily.
“You take care,” said Chad.
“Yeah, be well,” said Lily, and shut the door behind her.
She examined the illuminated panel of buzzers for each of the building’s apartments. Lily pressed the bell for the penthouse and stepped back a few feet. If she stood too close it would telegraph her overeagerness.
“Hello?” came a voice from the buzzer’s speaker. “Who’s there?” “It’s me. Lily,” said Lily.
“Lily?” came the voice. “What the fuck are you doing here? Are you crazy?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. Are you really that surprised?”
A pause. Lily waited for B to say something. She could feel B plot her next move.
Lily wasn’t a natural gambler; she had never had a taste for putting it all on the line. She was always methodical in her quest for what she wanted. She believed in legwork and progressions, not divine windfalls. But it was no longer good enough to wish for an ideal hand and let the cards steer her in whichever direction they chose. She had waited for the perfect moment to place her bet, to unleash the full force of her ideas and desires on the right person, the right job, the right circumstances for success. She had bided her time, so as not to go bankrupt for the wrong opportunity. But stasis carried its own set of risks. And now her stores of skills and experiences were on the verge of becoming meaning‑ less, her coffers devalued by a change in currency. Whatever amount she had left demanded to be used. Go big or go home. Except home just wasn’t an option.
The door buzzed. Lily pushed it in quickly. Once inside the elevator, she headed up to the penthouse. Like many loft residences, B’s building had one apartment per floor. The elevator reached the penthouse and the door opened into B’s foyer.
B loomed a few feet from the door, where she blocked most of the entrance. She wore loose men’s‑ style pajama bottoms and a white T‑shirt; her shoulder‑length brown hair streaked with gray highlights was wrapped in a haphazard half loop. Her brow was furrowed.
“I still don’t know what the fuck you’re doing here,” she said by way of greeting.
Lily stepped into the room. “I have something I need to tell you,” she said.
“And you couldn’t just send me a text?” B asked.
“It needs to happen in person,” Lily said.
B stared at her intently. The corners of her mouth tugged outward, in a grimace or a smile, it wasn’t clear. She moved to the side.
“Come in.”
 
CHAPTER ONE
 
One year and eight months earlier
LILY AVOIDED HER own reflection in her office’s smudged bathroom mirror. No amount of artful eyeliner or strategic concealer or shim‑ mery highlighter could impart the illusion of vivacity after a  ten‑  hour workday, certainly not in the  green‑  tinged fluorescent lighting. There was no hairdresser on hand to coax her dark strands into some sem‑ blance of elegance. There was no stylist or date to help zip up the back of her dress. All Lily’s hopes for a successful transition from sad cubicle dweller to black‑tie event attendee were pinned on the delicate fabric of her borrowed gown. And its tiny zipper pull refused to budge. Lily con‑ torted her arms into a broken pretzel and tugged at the pull as her face reddened with frustration.
In forty  minutes, theoretically, at l east, Lily would head to an iteration of the  twice‑annual An Unforgettable Evening gala in support of Alzheimer’s disease research. The gala’s slug line was extremely questionable, but the occasion was otherwise par for the course of Lily’s pr fessional social life. A magazine style writer with a partial society beat, she attended the odd cocktail party or dinner or jewelry luncheon from the sprawl of events that keep tony calendars full across the spring and fall seasons in New York. And then she wrote about these outings the following morning so that the people who had gone to them could read about  them—  because no one else read these stories beyond the people who had been at the  parties—  and relive their experiences through the lens of cultural validation. It was an IRL version of  two‑ factor authentication: First one lived the thing, then one made sure it had been real and worthy by consuming someone else’s narration of it. Check, check. A person’s authenticity was intact.
In preparation for the ball, Lily wore a strapless floral dress whose voluminous skirt ended at her ankles. The designer look was a sample that Lily had eyed, a few months ago, as it swished down a runway in an industrial warehouse in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. What was a gown on Lily had been a cocktail dress on the model who had worn this exact sample in the show. A person paid to write about society events could not afford the  high‑  end wardrobe the lifestyle  demanded; a decade of squeezing herself into borrowed outfits a size or more too small   had trained Lily’s eyes to reconfigure designer collections to her  non‑  mannequin proportions. She would sit in the fifth row of a fashion show and mentally eliminate looks worn by models with particularly tiny rib cages or waists. Anything that hit a model below her knees was a no‑ go for Lily, who was many inches shy of five foot eleven. Fabrics with stretch were ideal but rare. And a long line of  wedding‑  gown buttons was an instant  dealbreaker. No  twenty‑  first‑  century woman, save for a member of royalty, had the time or handmaids such useless garment closures required.
These borrowed designer dresses were the closest approximations of a Cinderella fantasy that Lily had achieved in the many years of her partygoing employment. Fairy godmothers, though, knew how to tailor their looks before directing their future princesses to don them. Still, the opportunity to wear for a few hours an exquisite item of fashion, however wrongly sized, had not lost its allure, not entirely.  Real‑l  ife fairy tales did not manifest without a certain amount of sacrifice.
The zipper’s boxy carriage would not move further along its metal tracks. Lily dragged it down to its place of inception, near her sacrum, and restarted its upward journey.
Ever since she had turned  thirty,   two whole years  ago,   Lily had striven to rid herself of this partial society beat. It was exhausting and repetitive work, like being stuck in a Groundhog Day of high school winter formals with more expensive venues and equally ruthless mean girls. For the most part, Lily had extricated herself from this nightly grind; there were always younger, eager assistants who had yet to learn that partying with strangers was not the same thing as going out with one’s friends. However, tonight’s Unforgettable Evening had an unusual twist that Lily had felt unable to refuse. She had been specifically invited by one of the gala’s chairs. Normally, Lily was dropped like dirty laun‑ dry onto a vacant dinner seat by a PR person for the event. This eve‑ ning, Lily would sit at one of the gala chairs’ tables, which meant that she was expected to devote extra attention in the next day’s copy to her gracious benefactor, Annabelle Jones.
The zipper carriage of Lily’s gown had reached its earlier sticking point. With one hand, Lily pressed the two tracks together, while she urged the carriage along with her other  hand   and some prayers for good measure.

Reviews

“A wry and winning debut from Vanessa Lawrence, ELLIPSES charts the course of a mentor-mentee relationship as toxic as it is intoxicating… [Lawrence] deploys her insider fluency with aplomb, describing the microaggressions of office politics as deftly as nepobaby influencers turned vegan caterers.”
Vogue, “The Best Books of 2024 So Far”

“Vanessa Lawrence’s Ellipses… navigates a nuanced conversation about power imbalances; our infatuations with so-called ‘accomplished’ women; and why society seems so incapable of holding intersectional identities in both hands.”
Elle, "The Best and Most Anticipated Fiction Books of 2024, So Far"

“Gracious and insightful.”
Women's Wear Daily

“Make no mistake about Vanessa Lawrence’s immersive debut novel, Ellipses, as being relevant to all women, young and old… Lawrence has crafted fiction that exposes truths without banging them over your head… The novel is a bundle of emotional complexities.”
Lorraine Kleinwaks, Enchanted Prose

“Wildly entertaining and sharply observed, Ellipses is an astonishing and riveting debut novel. Vanessa Lawrence astutely portrays a young woman’s journey of survival in the magazine industry—and New York City—as she navigates the shifting power dynamics among women and charts her own path.”
Sanaë Lemoine, author of NYTimes Editor’s Choice The Margot Affair

“An unflinchingly honest debut about the dizzying stakes of finding selfhood in a society that constantly threatens total consumption. Lawrence’s writing is as lyrical as it is incisive, exposing the bravery it takes to not be complicit in your own oppression. I couldn’t put this down.”
—Ling Ling Huang, author of Natural Beauty

“Vanessa Lawrence’s masterful debut deftly explores the stakes facing a young, queer, Asian female writer navigating the scary waters of the New York magazine world. Every page is a prose treasure, eloquently nailing the pulse of an often ruthless milieu while managing to make us laugh at its excesses and failures.”
Carolyn Ferrell, author of the PEN/Faulkner Award finalist Dear Miss Metropolitan

“In Ellipses, Vanessa Lawrence captures the spirit of a bygone fashion era, whose heady halcyon days she and I were lucky enough to witness as young adults coming up in New York City.”
Victor Glemaud, fashion designer

“A fresh take on power, manipulation, and self-discovery.”
Kirkus

Author

© Flora Hanitijo
Vanessa Lawrence is a writer, editor, and native New Yorker. For nearly two decades she covered the arts, fashion, beauty, design, and New York society on staff for publications including Women’s Wear Daily and W Magazine. She has a B.A. in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Ellipses is her debut novel. View titles by Vanessa Lawrence

Guides

Discussion Guide for Ellipses

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

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