Named one of the Best Books of 2023 by The New York Times, the New Yorker, Vulture, NPR, the Los Angeles Times, Esquire, Time, Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Lit Hub, and Amazon. National Bestseller. Winner of the 2023 Brooklyn Library Prize. A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice.
“A major novel, and a notably audacious one.” —Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“It feels fairly rare for a novel to be hugely intelligent and moving and fun in equal measure, but with Biography of X, Catherine Lacey somehow—magically—makes the nearly impossible look easy.” —Lauren Groff
From one of our fiercest stylists, a roaring epic chronicling the life, times, and secrets of a notorious artist.
When X—an iconoclastic artist, writer, and polarizing shape-shifter—falls dead in her office, her widow, CM, wild with grief and refusing everyone’s good advice, hurls herself into writing a biography of the woman she deified. Though X was recognized as a crucial creative force of her era, she kept a tight grip on her life story. Not even CM knows where X was born, and in her quest to find out, she opens a Pandora’s box of secrets, betrayals, and destruction. All the while, she immerses herself in the history of the Southern Territory, a fascist theocracy that split from the rest of the country after World War II, and which finally, in the present day, is being forced into an uneasy reunification.
A masterfully constructed literary adventure complete with original images assembled by X’s widow, Biography of X follows CM as she traces X’s peripatetic trajectory over decades, from Europe to the ruins of America’s divided territories, and through her collaborations and feuds with everyone from Bowie and Waits to Sontag and Acker. At last, when she finally understands the scope of X’s defining artistic project, CM realizes her wife’s deceptions were far crueler than she imagined.
Pulsing with suspense and intellect while blending nonfiction and fiction, Biography of X is a roaring epic that plumbs the depths of grief, art, and love. In her most ambitious novel yet, Catherine Lacey pushes her craft to its highest level, introducing us to an unforgettable character who, in her tantalizing mystery, shows us the fallibility of the stories we craft for ourselves.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Catherine Lacey’s brilliant Biography of X is tricky to discuss without divulging its best surprises. The book’s narrator, C. M., is attempting to write a biography of her mysterious late wife, an impossibly talented artist, author, musician, and provocateur known primarily as X. Lacey—the author of strange and memorable novels like The Answers and Pew—crafts a radical alternate reality so that historic figures like David Bowie can play a role in X’s pioneering career. Other tweaks are bolder and more shocking: anarchist activist Emma Goldman is an influential politician, Jackson Pollock has been murdered, and…well, no more spoilers. We absolutely loved reading Biography of X and slipping into the depths of Lacey’s bottomless imagination.
Lacey follows up Pew with an audacious novel of art and ideas set in an alternate late 20th century. It comprises a book titled Biography of X, which was published in 2005 by a journalist named C.M. Lucca. That book's subject, X, a pseudonymous multidisciplinary art star, reaches cult status as a novelist in 1973, when she's in her 20s (in one of many deliberately anachronistic references, X receives fan mail from a yet-to-be published Denis Johnson). Later, X travels to West Berlin to record with David Bowie, and, back in New York City, becomes a controversial performance artist. Lucca meets X in the mid-1980s, and they marry in 1990. Same-sex marriages are legal, thanks to progressive advances decades earlier pushed through by Emma Goldman, FDR's chief of staff. Goldman's agenda, though, led to a Southern secession in 1945. Shortly after the country is reunified in 1996, X dies from an unspecified cause. After an unauthorized biography of X is published, Lucca embarks on a project to set the record straight. She begins in the small Mississippi town where X was born, which X kept a secret to protect her from agents of the Southern Territory. As Lucca conducts interviews over the next several years, she begins to doubt how well she knew X after all. Lacey does a brilliant job convincing readers of Lucca's chops as a reporter, even as Lucca becomes unhinged. The author also perfectly marries her invented history with her study of a shape-shifting artist, with X refashioning herself both to escape her ultraconservative homeland and to build a vehicle for her creative expression. This is brilliant.
So tedious to read
I bought this based on a review. It was a struggle to finish.
Nope👎 not for me
After 1/4 of the way through I had to put this book down and did not want to pick it back up. Maybe it gets better but I just don’t have the patience to find out