Biography of X

Farrar. Mar. 2023. 416p. ISBN 9780374606176. $28. F
In this captivating fictional biography by Lacey (Pew), an NYPL Young Lion/Granta Best of Young American Novelists honoree, the narrator tells us that “people try to escape their past through characters.” The character here is a female artist/songwriter/novelist/performer, known as X, who possessively hides her childhood history. She was also the wife of narrator Charlotte Marie (C.M.) Lucca, who is now mourning her death. In a narrative framed as alternative history, C.M. begins discovering surprising secrets about her spouse, starting with X’s having come from the Southern Territories, which broke away from the United States on Thanksgiving Day, 1945. Among other deviations from history following this “Great Disunion,” activist Emma Goldman starts a political party in 1946, Jackson Pollock and other nonobjective painters are killed in an act of terrorism, and there is a dramatic reversal of gender norms in the art world, with women creating the majority of artworks. With little artistic expression allowed in the Southern Territories, where citizens can be incarcerated for the slightest reason, X escapes this tyranny for New York City. There, she transforms herself many times over as she continually creates art and music with many famous people.
VERDICT A tour-de-force in literary and artistic realms, this engrossing story of breakaway artist X will challenge readers on many levels.
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