Fiction

Reflection: Crudo –A Novel by Olivia Laing

Some books come into your life at the right time. Like a new friend they hold your hand, pull you away to a quiet corner, snaffle a bottle and two glasses on the way across, and then pull you into a couch, proclaiming: Let’s talk. Laing’s book does just this. It offers the reader a startling “What if”: What if Kathy Acker were here, now? What if she was on Twitter? Or Instagram? What if she was still writing, confronting readers with their darkest selves? What if Kathy Acker ended up in some middle aged respectability? We’ve seen how that worked out for Trent Reznor, no?

These What Ifs can feel overwhelming, because, of course, they do not end with one body. What if Angela Carter were still writing? What if Kurt Cobain was singing? What if a generation of queer activists, artists and thinkers hadn’t been eradicated during the 80s and 90s? Sometimes my response is relief – they have not been able to disappoint us. They have not been able to write or say something that makes us lose faith in them. They have become transcendent, they have become aspirational, they have become those who we wish we could be, these little gods.

And so really, Crudo in all its patter, its mundanity and its delight, is a story about a woman who challenged the ways we told stories. Who deconstructed the narrative arc. Who still had to buy socks, and who liked those socks to be comfortable. Crudo is a story about its reader: how might Acker have lived? How might you be living, my darling? Why are you living as you are? Is it what you want? Is it not? How are you tied to your life? Do you accept or reject those ties? Are you stumbling into childless middle-age? Are you walking into a life of adventure? Do you have socks that you love, or people that you love, or both? Crudo puts life before its readers as a feast, and reminds them that the woman eating this feast is a ghost. A hungry ghost. Perhaps my reading has been impacted because I am also reading Acker’s Great Expectations. I read a number of books at the same time. It can make my mind busy, but it’s the best way to be nourished by stories (reading only one thing is as damaging as eating only one thing. And potatoes might be versatile (chips, mash, vodka, cake) but you will get scurvy if that’s all you eat). I found that reading Acker, the way she slips dreamlike between states, settings, characters, gave lie to Liang’s attempt at the same. Liang is too steady, too neat, and too kind to replicate the warts of Acker’s all. But that’s not the story needs to do: it gives readers back the possibility of a resurrection, of a last supper before the Ascension. The woman without a father, with a broken mother, Acker is a messiah and Crudo is the Revelation.

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