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In Memoriam to Identity


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Acker's is not polite fiction, nor is it naturalistic. It is, however, challenging, certainly in its style and form but even more in its smart, articulated anger and willingness to affront its audience. Appropriating the lives and works of Rimbaud and Faulkner, this novel continues the challenge. The novel's first three sections introduce its three story lines: Rimbaud and his complex, miserable affair with the older poet Verlaine; Airplane, a young woman working in a sex show, whose story concerns innocence and wildness and public and private acts; and Capitol, the lover of Faulkner's Quentin Compson, a girl struggling free of her parents' influence. As Acker's title warns, memory and identity are linked. Themes recur and change, joining the novel's separate parts until the individual stories themselves become joined and their characters interact. There is much to praise in this difficult novel, not least of which is Acker's confident manipulation of narrative technique.-- Kevin Ray, Washington Univ., St. Louis

Acker, known for her scatological excursions into the demimonde of post-modernism, is above all a literalist, and a literary one at that. If her concern is the alienation wrought by industrialization, she literally appropriates Dickens's Pip, as she did in her first novel (sassily titled Great Expectations ), and thrusts him into the complexities of her time. In this new book, Acker mourns the childhood innocence (mostly sexual) lost to socialization. She invokes the writings of Rimbaud and Faulkner, blending them with modern angst and not a little political posturing--about AIDS, Thatcherism, etc. The book's four interlocking stories detail Rimbaud's doomed relationships with his mother and the poet Verlaine, Quentin Compson's deluded engagement with his unfolding fate and the tragic exploitation (again, mostly sexual) of several other characters. The tie that binds these narratives is the frenetic struggle to escape from the limitations of the social self. Acker writes with the coldest beauty and the most perfervid excess; she will find the audience that wants nothing in between. (July)

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