Technically I read Aliens and Anorexia at the very end of 2014, but it was too late to include in my favorite reads of last year, so, hence. And I’m in the middle of Chris Kraus’s novel Torpor right now, which could as easily end up on my 2015 list.
I think I may have finally figured out how to describe Kraus’s voice as a novelist, which would be to call it the outsider’s view of the inside of the elite artworld establishment. Her characters are outsiders, and that’s more often than not because they just can’t do what it takes to be insiders. They hang out with Félix Guattari to watch the fall of Romanian Communism on CNN, and they’re just as smart and talented and dedicated as their colleagues in the spotlight, but they just lack the capacity to go there themselves. This generally comes across as healthy amounts of past trauma mixed with self-sabotage, a plain inability to function very well in that world, and a complete lack of interest in the kind of politicking and bullshit it takes to get what they world can give them.
Kraus writes amazingly well on the psychology of this individual, and she can also do biting satire, both of this person and the worlds they’ll perpetually be on the outside of. Kraus in conversant with the major strands of modernist and postmodernist theory and philosophy, and she can bring these elements into the book in poetic and organic ways (see the Guattari above, or the excellent use of Simone Weil in Aliens and Anorexia, which you can read more about here.)
And then there are her plots, which are bizarre and gripping and just scoot right along on the power of these immensely honest, likable, and perceptive third-person narrators. These are just great books, books that are fun and witty and deeply intelligent and edge, books that try to figure out complex moralities and that deeply care about human beings. Most of all, books that want art and literature to be about something.