Olivia Laing’s amazing first novel, Crudo (W.W. Norton, $21) drives at a furious pace. This is key: the world is heating up, but it’s also speeding up. That’s part of the “numbing” process authoritarian regimes are using to beat down resistance. It worked with the Nazis, it may work for Trump, too. But it’s the artist’s job to stop this. To un-numb people, make them feel, care, think. This is where the book’s protagonist and muse, the post-modern/punk writer Kathy Acker (1947-97) comes in. Acker “wrote fiction…but she populated it with the already extant, the pre-packaged, the ready-made.” Laing, an accomplished nonfiction writer, also dips into “the grab bag of the actual” for her fiction, and in a frenetic rush of free associations, her Kathy broods on art, marriage, and emotions, as well as the horrors of August and September 2017—Trump’s tweets, the Grenfell Tower fire, the Houston flood, and the Charlottesville supremacist rally. But as much reality as it mirrors, this is a work of fiction. History would only “provide the furnishings,” while Laing is after “the attitudes.” Though her book has a blithe breeziness to it—“what’s art if it’s not plagiarizing the world?”—this mimicry would mean nothing without the deep compassion and moral outrage that fuel Laing’s every sentence.
Crudo by Olivia Laing