This story is written in the form of an article that might appear in a magazine. Jules Jones is the writer, and the article profile’s Kitty Jackson. He recounts a lunch he shared with her, during which he interviews her. The chapter includes footnotes, which expand on specific moments of the article.
Profile stories, which seek to illuminate celebrities’ lives, are a component of popular culture that furthers American obsession with celebrity and fame—while also arguably adding another layer of façade to any kind of true “identity” such stories might reveal.
Kitty is on the phone when he arrives at the restaurant. Jules notes that movie stars always look small the first time you see them, which is true for Kitty. Her hair is highlighted blond, and Jules knows about highlighting because his ex-fiancé used to talk about it. He notes that though Kitty has an unexceptional face, she seems extraordinarily pretty.
Jules’s surprise at Kitty’s size and beauty speaks to the way in which fame distorts the way famous individuals are imagined and perceived. His mention of his ex-fiancé in Kitty’s profile suggests that the article is not only about Kitty, but also about Jules.
Kitty is on the phone for five minutes, which cuts into the forty minutes she has agreed to for the interview. She apologizes to Jules after she hangs up, which puts her in the category of nice celebrities. These kinds of celebrities act like they are just like you, Jules notes, so you will write flattering things about them. He prefers mean celebrities, however, because they provide good material for his reporting.
Kitty’s phone call underlines the fundamental disconnection between her and Jules. Jules believes that celebrities are fundamentally different than non-famous individuals, as suggested by his comment about “nice celebrities.”
Jules notes the way in which people respond to Kitty, which is completely different than the way they respond to non-celebrities. He observes that the waiter’s recognition of Kitty’s fame seems to spread through the restaurant through a system of quantum physics—a concept called entangled particles. Even people across the restaurant who can’t see her seem to suddenly react.
Jules sees Kitty as possessing immense power, which she does to a certain extent, at least in affecting how people perceive and act around her.
Footnote 1: Jules explains that entangled particles have not been fully explained. How can one particle know what is happening to another? First, he decides that the particles are not communicating because they would have to do it faster than the speed of light, which is impossible. Then he discredits Einstein’s theory that the particles are responding to local factors, because all of the particles seem to be responding at the same time. He decides it is a quantum mechanical mystery. The presence of Kitty seems to entangle patrons by making them simultaneously aware that they are not Kitty Jackson. This shared awareness, Jules speculates, creates a simultaneous reaction.
Jules’s elaboration of this theory illuminates his character further, and it’s suggested that he is somewhat mentally instable. His theory revolves around the idea of connection and disconnection, and he perceives celebrities as fundamentally different from non-celebrities. The awareness of disconnection between these two entities is supposedly the force that creates the reaction Jules is witnessing.
Jules asks if she likes the attention, and Kitty says she doesn’t feel like she deserves it. He compliments her movies, and she says she was proud of her older work. As she begins to talk about her new movie, Jules cuts her off. He is not interested in her new movie. The waiter brings their food, and Jules analyzes the waiter’s and Kitty’s behavior. Jules compares Kitty and the waiter’s responses to a sandwich. The middle of the sandwich is the truth of their emotion, and the bread is their attempt to cover it up and keep it contained.
Jules’ readers are interested in the identity of the famous individual—that is, who they are authentically beyond their movies. Jules’ sandwich analogy speaks to a level of inauthenticity he perceives in both Kitty and the waiter, and perhaps a fundamental disconnection between all humans.
Jules notes that sixteen minutes have passed. He suggests that Kitty has been having an affair with her co-star, and purposefully talks with his mouth full in a calculated effort to disgust Kitty, an attempt to puncture her shield of kindness. She denies the affair, stating that she and Tom Cruise have a wonderful relationship, that she admires Nicole Kidman (his wife), and babysat their children. Jules smiles, intending to fluster Kitty. He reminds the reader that he only has forty minutes, and he needs to “break her open” quickly. He watches her eat her salad. She dips her finger into the salad dressing, and sucks it off.
Jules is obsessed with time, something reflected in the very title of his piece: “Forty-Minute Lunch.” The moment where Kitty sucks her finger is an important turning point in the interview, as Jules continues to search for a kind of authentic core or experience that he can write about.
Footnote 2: This footnote reveals that Jules is writing this article from Rikers Island Correctional Facility. For months he has been analyzing the moment where Kitty sucked her finger. He enumerates the list of thoughts that went through his head in that moment. He wonders first if she is coming onto him, but decides that is out of the question. He then asks why it would be out of the question. He answers this question by remembering his ex-fiancé’s comment about him gaining weight, having skin problems, and having no worldly clout. He goes back and forth, finally realizing that he does not even register as a man to Kitty, and so she is not self-conscious in his presence.
This footnote puts the interview in perspective, as we see that Jules is looking back from a point in the future and analyzing the events from memory. His argument with himself shows instability in his identity, and an inability to derive proper meaning from interactions with others. His final comment about not even registering as a man to Kitty again speaks to his theory about a fundamental human disconnection between celebrities and non-celebrities.
Jules asks what Kitty plans to do with her career next, and Kitty is relieved to receive a normal question. Jules believes the best he can do in this situation is to hide the impossibility of them sharing any kind of connection. Jules notes that he keeps inserting himself into the story because it is the only way to make an article about a nice nineteen-year-old interesting. He finds Kitty boring, and what is most interesting about her is the reaction she receives from others. In order to understand his own reaction to her, Jules states that it is important the reader understands that his ex-fiancé dumped him two weeks ago for a memoirist who wrote about his adolescent penchant for masturbating into the family fish tank.
Jules backs away from the questions meant to “break her open,” abandoning the idea of connecting with Kitty. He does, however, believe he is more interesting than Kitty, which speaks to his perception of himself and his identity. The pain he has experienced around the ruin of his relationship becomes clear as he inserts the information about his ex’s new boyfriend. He compares himself to the man, and establishes that he is superior to the new boyfriend.
Kitty responds to Jules’ question by saying that she imagines her future self looking back at her present self, and wonders if her present self is beginning a great life. Kitty wants happiness. She wants to find true love, and have children. Jules feels anger, fear, and lust. He looks at her shoulder and briefly imagines pulling apart her little bones and sucking the meat off of them one by one.
Because of Jules’ current state and recent failure in his relationship, Kitty’s comment about love pushes him into a rage. His violent imaginings are shocking, but perhaps show a more authentic version of his true thoughts and emotions.
Footnote 3: In this footnote, Jules recounts the day he met his ex-fiancé. She was out walking her dog, which Jules calls a mangy, wet-looking terrier that appears unlovable. But she loved the dog, and Jules admired that. As he watched her pick up the dog’s poop, he imagined their life together. He asked her if he could help. She smiled and asked him if he was insane.
Jules seemingly identifies with the unlovable dog, which is why he becomes attached to his ex-fiancé—he believes she can love him no matter what. Her question about Jules’ insanity is some rather ironic foreshadowing.
Jules asks Kitty how it feels to be a sex goddess, but she says it is something other people feel. A look of weariness comes over her face, and Jules also feels weary. Jules says all of this is such a farce, and notes that Kitty is regarding him with pity. He worries that he has permitted her to turn the interview around on him, forcing him into the spotlight. He sneezes, which he feels saves the moment from turning on him.
Jules does not believe Kitty is telling the truth, and the pity he thinks she has for him further disconnects them. He worries she has turned the spotlight on him, but in fact, he has been inserting himself the entire time. The article is in fact a profile of Jules’ identity, not Kitty’s.
Jules asks Kitty if she would be willing to go on a walk with him. She asks about her publicist, who is supposed to come relieve her of the interview in forty minutes. Jules suggests that he call her publicist and have him meet them. He wants to get a few extra minutes with Kitty to try to salvage the interview, and he wants to see the way Kitty moves while she is walking. As she walks out, Jules notes that she walks in a way that suggests she knows she is famous and irresistible. She keeps her head down because her power over others is embarrassing.
Jules’ internal misogyny is expressed in his desire to naturally objectify Kitty and gawk at her body. He also reads her posture as an indication of her power, and her fundamental disconnection from “normal” people, though Kitty’s comments earlier in the interview suggest she is more humble and human than Jules believes.
By the time Jules and Kitty have reached Central Park, forty-one minutes have passed. Jules watches Kitty’s legs as they walk, so closely that he can see the fine hairs above her knees. He feels like getting on the ground and crawling beside her. Her skin is smooth, Jules believes, because she is young and still unaware that she will reach middle age and die.
Jules takes more time from Kitty than she desired to give, which is a minor demonstration of his manipulative nature. Jules has experienced ruin, and he believes Kitty has not, which endows her with a purity that he violently desires for himself.
They sit on a grassy slope, and begin talking again about her new movie. Jules suggests they stop talking about the movie and talk about horses. Kitty’s response suggests that Jules has broken through her celebrity surface and touched something deeper: Kitty pulls a picture of a horse from her purse, saying the horse’s name is Nixon. Kitty feels sad because she never gets to see the horse. In this moment, Jules pushes Kitty back on the grass and tells her to pretend she is riding Nixon. He covers her mouth when she tries to scream. He remembers a failed sexual encounter with his ex-fiancé as he pins Kitty down with his body. Jules feels rage, desiring to cut Kitty open or tear her apart and plunge his arms into whatever pure liquids exist within her body. He wants to rape her and then kill her, but not the other way around because he wants to feel the life inside of her. Kitty sprays Jules with mace and stabs his thigh with a Swiss Army knife. She runs away, but Jules notes that he got an extra twenty minutes with her.
Jules sees Kitty in a moment of authenticity as she speaks about her horse. In his mind, the disconnection caused by her celebrity slips away, and he feels the barrier between them fall. He reads this as an opportunity to push the connection toward a sexual end. His emotions turn to rage as he thinks about his ex and the destruction he believes she has caused in his life, though it is clear at this point that Jules’s instability is the real problem. He believes entering into Kitty’s “pure liquids” (in a kind of twisted baptism) will be redemptive for him, and allow him to regain the life he feels he has lost. Jules’ final comment about the extra twenty minutes suggests a deep disconnection from reality, as his interview time seems just as important as his attempted rape and murder of Kitty.
Later, Kitty writes Jules a letter in jail, apologizing for whatever part she played in his emotional breakdown and for stabbing him. Several other articles appear after his incarceration about the vulnerability of celebrities, the need to vet freelance writers, and the lack of adequate daytime security in Central Park. Kitty is held up as the Marilyn Monroe of her generation, a martyr for her response to Jules.
Kitty’s actions after the attack suggest a humanity and authentic concern for others that Jules completely disregarded through the interview. Her attempt to forgive Jules is consumed by popular culture, however, and the meaning is misconstrued as an attempt for Kitty to further her image.
Footnote 4: In response to the article about the need for security in Central Park, Jules writes a letter to the editor. He suggests erecting checkpoints at each entrance of the park that will call up the records of success or failure of each visitor, and assign each person a rank depending on their statistics. Then the lower ranked people could receive a tracking device and be watched in the park. His only request is they rank infamy equally with fame, so that way he could receive the same protection as Kitty. This is in response to the assassination of character he has received after the rape.
Jules’ letter suggests that he still perceives himself as a victim, though he was clearly in the wrong, and his comment about protecting celebrities along with non-celebrities implies that he still holds to the idea of a fundamental disconnection between these two groups. His comments also illuminate the absurdity of the surveillance state in America, which becomes an idea explored in the final chapters of the novel.