Catherine Lacey is on my auto-read list after I was blown away by her 2020 novel, Pew, an uncanny tale not too far removed from the The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas (Le Guin). Her latest, The Biography of X, is an incredibly impressive novel, in which a widow chronicles the life of her mysterious artist wife, X.
When an inaccurate biography of CM’s wife X is published, CM, a journalist, goes on a journey to get the “real” story about her dead wife. After speaking with many people from her past, and her own research, CM discovers a side of her wife of which she was not aware. Past lovers, friends, even false identities, begin to paint a picture of a talented and complex woman.
I went in knowing absolutely nothing about this book, and came away completely bereft. Not only is this the story of a relationship with an incredibly complex, literally multi-faceted woman, it is also an alternative-history book. In X’s America, the north and south were literally divided by a wall, with the south forcing religion on its occupants, with severe consequences if they did not comply. The reader quickly discovers this is the south X successfully escaped from.
Biography of X is such an intelligent and well-crafted novel. It’s about art, power, feminism, identity, truth, among other things. But the story is always immensely readable and enjoyable. We encounter celebrities such as David Bowie and Tom Waits, as well as real politicians in unexpected roles.
I was lucky enough to listen to the audiobook, expertly performed by the prolific Cassandra Campbell. She gave such heart to the character of CM, and I was absolutely devastated by the end, especially X’s final exhibit. X really puts CM through the wringer over the years, and Campbell beautifully captured CM’s internal conflict.
Apparently, in the physical book, some of the artifacts and documents referred to are included in the text. I don’t feel like I missed these by listening to the audiobook, and it gives me an excuse to read the book again at some point.
Catherine Lacey is a fantastic author, and Biography of X is a phenomenal work. Highly recommended to lovers of great fiction.
Biography of X is released TODAY! Go and get it!
Huge thanks to FSG, RB Media, and Recorded Books for the advanced copy.