cover image Eat Your Mind: The Radical Life and Work of Kathy Acker

Eat Your Mind: The Radical Life and Work of Kathy Acker

Jason McBride. Simon & Schuster, $28.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-9821-1702-3

Critic McBride investigates novelist Kathy Acker’s fiery personality and artistic inspiration in this comprehensive biography. McBride shows how Acker, who died in 1997, became a beloved name in experimental writing communities for her fragmentary novels depicting sexual promiscuity, queerness, prostitution, trauma, and incest. McBride finds it to be more than sensationalism: “For all of her books’ vivid vulgarity, they asked fundamental questions. How do I cope with the pain of being unloved? What is good art? What is art good for? What knowledge exists outside our conscious minds?” Five sections, starting at Acker’s birth in Manhattan in 1947 and ending at her funeral, cover about a decade each and examine the changes and developments in Acker’s personal and professional lives. Though McBride accepts that certain details of Acker’s biography must be “enclosed in quotation marks” because of her belief that “binary divisions between fantasy and reality... are false”), he manages to bring together her diaries, novels, poems, plays, and letters with reminiscences from her friends, lovers, and collaborators for a full portrait of her life. To McBride, inconsistencies or contradictions are revealing: “She didn’t seek to be solved. Holes are escape routes, openings. They lead to unknown possibilities.” The result is an excellent addition to American literary history. (Nov.)