cover image Crudo


Olivia Laing. Norton, $21 (160p) ISBN 978-0-393-65272-7

“Avant-garde, middle-class-in-flight” is the way Kathy, modeled on experimental novelist Kathy Acker and the heroine of this penetrating debut novel from biographer and memoirist Laing, thinks of herself. Unlike Acker, who died at age 50 in 1997, this Kathy is age 40 in 2017 and is getting ready to marry her boyfriend. As the tale toggles back and forth between Rome and Manhattan, present and past, Laing (The Lonely City)—who laces her narrative with phrases subtly quoted from Acker’s texts—fantasizes about how the author might have reacted to the age of Twitter (“her scrying glass”), Facebook, Instagram, and information overload. Kathy’s thoughts—which are the novel’s sum and substance—are like those of an Acker character: moments of self-consciousness and anxiety aswirl with gloomy reflections on recent historical events including the Trump presidency; Brexit; nuclear proliferation in North Korea; the Grenfell Tower fire in London; the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va.; and so on. The world that Kathy moves in is, like that in Joyce’s Ulysses, full of touchstones for intimate memories and reveries. Laing’s novel can be read as an account of one individual’s personal odyssey through a turbulent era defined by “fire and fascism,” searching for peace. As in her nonfiction, Laing trenchantly depicts the life of the creative mind. Agent: PJ Mark, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Sept.)