Intense, darkly humorous, and emotionally acute, WHAT YOU MAKE OF ME poses questions about love and obsession, about meaning and the purpose of art. What does it mean to use someone else’s life for your art? Where is the line? Does it matter?

by S.M. Dess
Penguin Press, March 2025
(via Writers House)

Demetri and his sister, Ava. Ava and her brother, Demetri. As fiercely competitive as they are co-dependent, the two have long been locked in an emotionally charged relationship. Ava, defiant and impassioned, grew up in the shadow of soft, charming, and intellectual Demetri. But in the aftershocks of familial trauma, it is Demetri who finds himself emotionally ruined, whereas Ava has no time nor patience for grief. As they grow up, following one another from city to city, the siblings are set on their own parallel paths as artists, thinkers, and lovers. Ava throws herself into her obsession with her art, which gradually leads to fame and financial stability – as well as extreme existential insecurity. But Demetri flounders, unable to escape the wake of tragedy.

When Nati, an Italian gallery owner, arrives in New York, Demetri and Ava orbit her, possessed by their own priorities. But when they both fall for her, Nati refuses to play their game. Once again, and perhaps for the last time, the brother and sister must face what they most want from each other, and what they’re unwilling to give.

S.M. Dess is a writer with fiction in The Paris Review, The Drift, Forever Magazine and more. She received her MFA from Columbia University in Spring 2023.

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