cover image Biography of X

Biography of X

Catherine Lacey. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-60617-6

Lacey follows up Pew with an audacious novel of art and ideas set in an alternate late 20th century. It comprises a book titled Biography of X, which was published in 2005 by a journalist named C.M. Lucca. That book’s subject, X, a pseudonymous multidisciplinary art star, reaches cult status as a novelist in 1973, when she’s in her 20s (in one of many deliberately anachronistic references, X receives fan mail from a yet-to-be published Denis Johnson). Later, X travels to West Berlin to record with David Bowie, and, back in New York City, becomes a controversial performance artist. Lucca meets X in the mid-1980s, and they marry in 1990. Same-sex marriages are legal, thanks to progressive advances decades earlier pushed through by Emma Goldman, FDR’s chief of staff. Goldman’s agenda, though, led to a Southern secession in 1945. Shortly after the country is reunified in 1996, X dies from an unspecified cause. After an unauthorized biography of X is published, Lucca embarks on a project to set the record straight. She begins in the small Mississippi town where X was born, which X kept a secret to protect her from agents of the Southern Territory. As Lucca conducts interviews over the next several years, she begins to doubt how well she knew X after all. Lacey does a brilliant job convincing readers of Lucca’s chops as a reporter, even as Lucca becomes unhinged. The author also perfectly marries her invented history with her study of a shape-shifting artist, with X refashioning herself both to escape her ultraconservative homeland and to build a vehicle for her creative expression. This is brilliant. Agent: Jin Auh, Wiley Agency. (Mar.)