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.
The narrator of Biography of X...has a cool tone and a lonely intelligence; she’s a solitary spirit. Her voice is clear but worn, like beach glass. There’s some early Renata Adler in it, and some Janet Malcolm...C.M.’s voice, with its withdrawn quality and intimations of ruin, is an odd one to preside over a novel this sprawling and ambitious, this strange and dystopian and vividly imagined. Biography of X reimagines the American century while tapping into our evergreen fascination with the downtown art world between 1970 and 1995. It’s a hard book to get a handle on ... This is a magpie novel, one that borrows snatches of text, that tinkers with reputations, that moves historical figures around in time ... By its second half, Biography of X has begun to drag somewhat. We follow C.M. on interview after interview, and the form is too conventional; all that’s missing is a Peter Coyote voice-over ... But you will already be locked in. This is a major novel, and a notably audacious one. Lacey is pulling from a deep reservoir...This book is about facing, and accepting, the things you didn’t want to know.
...in its boldness of premise and execution, Biography of X goes above and beyond, under the river and through the woods. It flaunts world-building skills that the writers of HBO’s Game of Thrones wish they’d had ... At first read, Lacey’s dedication to the bizarro-world reality of this novel was irksome. I was more interested in her sentences...I found myself yearning for more of X and Lucca. I didn’t care about the fact that X may have been a spy for the Northern Territory or that she had collaborated with David Bowie ... But the ending of this novel changed my thinking and confirmed that Lacey is one of the most fearless novelists writing today ... The climax of the book, what Lucca discovers, is not to be shared in this review. But it is the recognizable nightmare of anyone who has loved an art monster. More terrifying and tantalizing is the message such parallel worlds send to art monsters themselves. Lacey asks, what happens when we don’t choose love?
Lacey’s book, which is trimmed with photographs, historical data, collected interviews, and secondary sources, joins a recent spate of critically acclaimed novels that adorn themselves with the formal signifiers of nonfiction ... C. M. Lucca’s fictional biography makes up the entirety of Lacey’s novel. The result is not really a book-within-a-book but, rather, a book encased in the glistening film of a different title, author, and genre ... Lacey’s Christian Coup is not a new novelistic premise...but Lacey creates a particularly elaborate and polarized counterfactual world on its basis ... Lacey’s form skillfully evokes what her character Lucca is experiencing in the story itself: a reluctant disquiet and gnawing curiosity over the given material’s true source. And, to Lacey’s credit, I can’t remember the last time that I’ve read a recently published novel and amiably wondered if its narrative strategies were, in fact, completely legal ... Ossifies a sliver of bohemia as it already existed, preserving the basic provocations of the counterculture while evacuating the material conditions of the culture that it responded to. The novel’s conclusion is ultimately sorrowful: everything could change, and nothing would be different ... Perhaps all biography is built from that kind of earnest ventriloquism, that kind of clouded remembering. Ghosts appear in our mouths, confused and out of time. The widows stand vigil: writing, writing, writing.