Blue Ruin

Knopf. May 2024. 272p. ISBN 9780593801376. $28. F
While making a grocery delivery during the early months of the pandemic, Jay stumbles into a COVID pod occupied by, among others, his ex-girlfriend Alice and her now husband (and Jay’s former best friend), Rob. Twenty years earlier, the three had been part of an artists’ community in London. Rob has since become a moderately successful painter, while Jay, a conceptual performance artist, has disappeared from the art world; at the time of the novel’s opening, is unhoused, living illegally in the United States, and subsisting on gig work. Rob, who is at the moment artistically blocked, is unwilling to believe that Jay’s sudden reappearance in his life is by chance. Meanwhile, gallerist Marshall, who has fallen into the hole of online conspiracy theories, is trying to make lucrative art deals involving Rob and a former mentor.
VERDICT Kunzru (Red Pill) has a gift for vivid, visceral description, whether it’s the drug-fueled squalor of London’s underground art scene or the gentrified New York compound where Jay finds himself. Along the way, there are thematic threads involving the commodification of art and conflicts of class and race (both Jay and Alice are biracial). Kunzru’s unique style and perspective make for a fun, though edgy ride.
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