The Book of X

Saturday 22 February 2020


THE BOOK OF X has a serious body-image complex. 

In this gore, inverted world where the bible phrase “all flesh is grass” is made literal, Cassie was born with anxiety, that is, with her stomach in an actual knot. She struggles with intimacy and self-esteem. The touch of her mother is a rare occurrence. Her affairs, loveless. And every night, she sucks on a rock in hopes of waking up with a flat, unknotted stomach.

Because of her appearance, bodies are a burden for Casssie. They stand in the way of telling her brother she loves him, — “In the low, low light, across the table, I love him. I want to say it, but it gets trapped in my throat, a motionless red lump, worthless as a heart, ” — of getting to know her mother, — “I reach over and touch her hand. She squeezes mine and we both let out small awkward laughs. It is easier, at time, to touch her rather than to know her, ”— while sex, the most intimate of acts, is this thing she can put on auto-pilot, — “Once I caress his neck, there is a quick cut to the apartment. ” 

Regardless of what they really mean, the surrealist elements compliment well Cassie's repulsion of bodies. It's like the book itself is dissociating. It is very “of our time” as Zadie Smith once said of millennial writers:

“How many times in these books the character, usually in the first person, will say – something emotional will have happened – and instead of responding, either in the narrative, or vocally, as you would in a ‘traditional novel,’ the character will pinch a bit of their skin until it bleeds, or do this, or hold their jaw. It’s so strange.  … As if the body was a dissociated thing, you know? … They don’t have…the idea of verbalizing an emotion is quite distant. And the body is treated like this strange thing you have to drag around, after you’ve finished your text messages, and emails, your virtual life. Like, why have I got this flesh bucket that I’m carrying around? ”

      Zadie Smith. Louisiana Channel

A small tooth to pick: the small cast and rural setting feel a bit like cardboard: the detached, chain-smoking mother seems cut out out of a film, the isolated farm taken out of Grant Wood’s American Gothic, white house, red barn. And haven't I met this barefooted Wolf child before? She was running unsupervised in The Art of Taxidermy, The Faerie Devouring and Le Vertige des Falaises last time. I would have wanted more constrast and definition from these archetypes.

A debut novel, then. But overall, the kind of weird I like. To top it off, it made me discover Two Dollar Radio, a delightful family-run press. 

Cover art: Chantal BonnevilleTraitée inutilement avec un noeud. 2019. Private collection.

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