Reviews of Biography of X by Catherine Lacey

Biography of X

A Novel

by Catherine Lacey

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey X
Biography of X by Catherine Lacey
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2023, 416 pages

    Mar 19, 2024, 416 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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Book Summary

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, 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, her wife, knew where X had been 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, as it is finally, in the present day, forced into an uneasy reunification.

A masterfully constructed literary adventure complete with original images assembled by X's widow, Biography of X follows a grieving wife seeking to understand the woman who enthralled her. CM 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. And 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, one of our most acclaimed literary innovators, 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.

Coming soon.

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As a series of stories about an eccentric and bizarre person, Biography of X has plenty of moments of brilliance. The central premise that intrigued me was the question suggested by CM's quest: How well do we really know those we love, those we've chosen to spend our lives with? But CM's situation is so hyper-specific, her wife so willfully, intentionally unknowable, a literal master of disguise, that it lacks some of the universal appeal that might have otherwise invited readers to reflect on their own relationships. What holds the novel together is suspense. As CM finds out more about her wife, it becomes clear that X had a history of using and manipulating people, and even the occasional act of violence...continued

Full Review Members Only (741 words)

(Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Media Reviews

[A] staggering achievement ... [a] masterpiece about the slippery nature of art, identity, and truth.

The New Republic
Lacey has done such a brilliant job of making X impossible to envision, impossible to feel or grasp ... There is an ambition in The Biography of X that's thrilling not least because it shows how endless, how elastic and expansive—at a time when so much storytelling feels constricted, tight and close on a single consciousness—fiction can be.

The Wall Street Journal
Lacey imposes a truly outstanding narrative authority on her pseudo-biography ... the audacity of this book, joined with its vivid re-imaginings of countercultural scenes from the '70s and '80s and its glancing intersection with current-day debates about art and politics, seems likely to bring her to a much wider audience. If this does mark Ms. Lacey's deserved elevation to mainstream attention, she has accomplished it without diluting the vital qualities of confusion, yearning and mystery.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Breathtaking in its scope and rigor, this unforgettable novel pushes contemporary fiction to dizzying heights. A triumph.

Library Journal (starred review)
A tour-de-force in literary and artistic realms, this engrossing story of breakaway artist X will challenge readers on many levels.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
An audacious novel of art and ideas ... The author also perfectly marries her [character's] 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.

The Washington Post
The book is a marvelous centrifuge, in which political and cultural histories of the American 20th century collapse.

Lacey's tale is a lovely meditation on not only the mysteries of grief and love but also the equally mysterious ways of the creative process.

The New York Times
This is a major novel, and a notably audacious one. Lacey is pulling from a deep reservoir. Beneath the counterfactuals, and the glamour and squalor of Manhattan nightlife, and the mythologies bought and sold, she's telling a love story of a broken sort. C.M. is flinging rope between her present and past. This book is about facing, and accepting, the things you didn't want to know.

Author Blurb Garth Greenwell, author of Cleanness and What Belongs to You
I'm not sure I know another novel that manages to be so many books at once: a biography revealing masks beneath masks and faces beneath faces, a quest narrative unsure of what it's seeking, an impossibly ambitious parable about art and the enigma of others, an alternate history of America that serves as an X-ray of our own fractured country. Biography of X is a profound novel about love and what it can license, about the toll―and maybe the con―of genius. Only Catherine Lacey could have written it.

Author Blurb Sara Nović, author of True Biz
Biography of X is a triumphant high-wire act: all the breadth of a 19th century classic with the propulsiveness of a psychological thriller. I stayed up too late, wishing to uncover X's secrets alongside the narrator.

Author Blurb Torrey Peters, author of Detransition, Baby
Biography of X is the most ambitious book I've ever read from a writer of my own generation. Epic world-building revealed through intimate emotion and dangerously honed sentences; a story that mixes fact and fiction to create a new register of truth, a register that belongs entirely to Catherine Lacey. I'm awed.

Reader Reviews

basharat hussain

Biography of X by Catherine Lacey.
"Biography of X" is a novel by Catherine Lacey that explores the life of a woman known only as "X." The novel is a blend of biography, fiction and meditation on the nature of identity.X is an enigmatic figure, and little is known ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Emma Goldman

Black-and-white photo portrait of Emma Goldman, seated with book against indistinct background In Biography of X, author Catherine Lacey imagines a world in which Russian-born anarchist and progressive activist Emma Goldman had a legitimate political career in the United States, serving as governor of Illinois and then chief of staff to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this capacity, Goldman ushered in profound systemic change, attaching amendments for same-sex marriage, prison abolition and immigrants' rights to FDR's New Deal, a progressive trifecta that inspired the southern states to secede. Lacey's version of Goldman was assassinated in 1945.

The real-life Goldman was born in 1869 in Konvo, Lithuana, which was then part of the Russian Empire. She moved with her family to St. Petersburg in 1881, where she was ...

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