Alice Knott

Blake Butler. Riverhead, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-53521-8
Butler (300,000,000) unwinds a vertiginous, deeply interior tale of art vandalism and a woman’s derangement. When a video showing the destruction of a Willem de Kooning painting goes viral, copycat crimes erupt across the world. The de Kooning, among other destroyed works, turns out to have been stolen from Alice Knott, an aging heiress isolated in her family home for decades. Traumatized by her childhood, Alice suffers from extreme dissociation and is bewildered by herself and her mother, father, stepfather, and twin (or “untwin”) brother. Her confusion extends even to the nature of her house, which shape-shifts in her mind (“there always seemed to be new rooms, and different dimensions to the past ones”). As Alice becomes a suspect in the crimes, Alice Novak, a conceptual artist Butler confusingly describes as Alice Knott’s doppelgänger, dies, apparently during a performance. Meanwhile, acts of art-terror proliferate along with a pandemic of Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; natural disasters; and a contagious delirium that infects even the U.S. president. Butler’s penchant for ambiguities flowers in Alice’s convoluted ruminations, which predominate in this challenging novel. Unfortunately, the labyrinthine language will leave readers trapped alongside Alice in her harrowing hall-of-mirrors self, unmoored to any grounding context, and Butler’s attempt to portray mental illness is overwrought and tedious. The conceit and experimentation are fascinating and admirable, but miss their mark. Agent: Bill Clegg, the Clegg Agency. (July)
Reviewed on : 04/17/2020
Release date: 07/07/2020
Genre: Fiction
Ebook - 978-0-525-53523-2
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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