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In her funny, idiosyncratic, and propulsive new novel, Art Is Everything, Yxta Maya Murray offers us a portrait of a Chicana artist as a woman on the margins. L.A. native Amanda Ruiz is a successful performance artist who is madly in love with her girlfriend, a wealthy and pragmatic actuary named Xōchitl. Everything seems under control: Amanda’s grumpy father is living peacefully in Koreatown; Amanda is about to enjoy a residency at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and, once she gets her NEA, she’s going to film a groundbreaking autocritical documentary in Mexico.
But then everything starts to fall apart when Xōchitl’s biological clock begins beeping, Amanda’s father dies, and she endures a sexual assault. What happens to an artist when her emotional support vanishes along with her feelings of safety and her finances? Written as a series of web posts, Instagram essays, Snapchat freakouts, rejected Yelp reviews, Facebook screeds, and SmugMug streams-of-consciousness that merge volcanic confession with eagle-eyed art criticism, Art Is Everything shows us the painful but joyous development of a mid-career artist whose world implodes just as she has a breakthrough.
Murray (The Good Girl's Guide to Getting Kidnapped) offers a fascinating if uneven portrait of a Latinx artist as she struggles to balance life and art. The narrative takes the form of a shifting series of Wikipedia entries, snippets of confessional autobiography, blog entries, Snapchats, Instagram posts, marketing copy, and unpublished Yelp reviews as Los Angeles performance artist Amanda Ruiz navigates identity, the difficulties of making art as a marginalized woman, and a desire for love. She falls for Xochitl, a practical and well-paid actuary, but their relationship implodes when Xochitl announces she wants to have a baby and Amanda refuses to give up her art, a force in her life that "can strengthen the cortisol-flooded heart but also crack it wide open." She then meets lawyer Brandon Chu, and the two fall in love, but when Amanda is sexually assaulted by a gallery owner who'd offered her a show, she falls apart. In the post-assault fallout, Brandon leaves her and she stops making art. While long passages of art criticism serve only to restate themes evident in the primary narrative, such as the art world's white hegemony, Amanda's story feels immediate. Murray's attempt to challenge traditional narrative structure along with definitions of sexuality and art takes on a bit too much.