Named one of the Best Books of 2020 by Refinery29
A hypnotic, wildly inventive novel about art, violence, and endurance
Alice Knott lives alone, a reclusive heiress haunted by memories of her deceased parents and mysterious near-identical brother. Much of her family’s fortune has been spent on a world-class collection of artwork, which she stores in a vault in her lonely, cavernous house. One day, she awakens to find the artwork destroyed, the act of vandalism captured in a viral video that soon triggers a rash of copycat incidents. As more videos follow and the world’s most priceless works of art are destroyed one by one, Alice finds that she has become the chief suspect in an international conspiracy—even as her psyche becomes a shadowed landscape of childhood demons and cognitive disorder.
Unsettling, almost physically immersive, Alice Knott is a virtuoso exploration of the meaning of art and the lasting afterlife of trauma, as well as a deeply humane portrait of a woman whose trials feel both apocalyptic and universal.
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 doppelg nger, 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.