CATT DUNLOP, the heroine of Chris Kraus’s novel Summer of Hate, is a 44-year old cultural art critic with a small devoted following of “Asperger’s boys, girls who’d been hospitalized for mental illness, assistant professors who would not be receiving their tenure, lap dancers, cutters, and whores.” It’s 2005, in the throes of the George W. Bush years. Highly intelligent, sensitive, independent, and deeply flawed, Catt is mesmerizing. She’s also funny. “It occurred to Catt,” Kraus writes early in the novel, “that the epistemological groundwork for the war in Iraq had been laid by Paris Hilton’s anal sex video.” Catt’s attention, and the author’s, to American intricacies is unblinking and ruthless.
Autobiographical in tone (Kraus’s biography, with some tinkering, could be substituted for Catt’s), Summer of Hate is original, intelligent, darkly humorous, emotionally honest, and it grips the reader with a relentless thriller-like force.
Kraus’s first novel, I Love Dick, published in 1997, established her reputation as a cult-favorite. A blending of letters, art reviews, philosophical pronouncements, and essays, I Love Dick wasn’t fiction but it wasn’t nonfiction, and it gained staunch admirers and critics. “In the beginning,” Kraus said in an interview, “I’d create these experiences just to have something to report on. That’s what it was with I Love Dick.” Her subsequent novels, Aliens & Anorexia and Torpor, continued this confusion, displacing genre and categorization, stumping traditional narratives of female identity, opening the path for experimental women writers. Kraus maneuvers within the freedoms provided at the periphery of the publishing world’s rigid and generalized marketing. She founded Semiotext(e) Native Agents Imprint to publish fiction, mostly by women, as an analogue to French theories of subjectivity, and she’s an active, influential, and respected figure in the art scene as well.
In Summer of Hate, Catt seeks out a lover from a bondage website to appease her undercurrent of a death wish, and then, realizing her mistake, she flees “her killer” in self-preservation, eventually traveling to Albuquerque to buy distressed buildings. This is Catt’s re-engagement and re-commitment to life, since she has an almost childlike pleasure in her talent for real estate investments.
There, she meets and hires Paul Garcia, a 39-year old recovering alcoholic and convicted felon on parole, newly released from serving a 16-month sentence in state prison for defrauding Halliburton industries, his former employer, of $937. Catt reflects:
Meanwhile, she’s amassed tens of thousands of dollars by working within the tax code’s gray zones. Unaware of his former employer’s massive war crimes, Paul seems ashamed of stealing less than an art gallery spends on an after party.
Kraus uses a roving point of view, mostly alternating between Catt and Paul, but we also get glimpses of other characters, such as the poet and professor Terry Stiles, deserving of her own novel. Kraus’s language is stripped, her sentences simple. Here she describes Catt and Paul’s dating: “All in all, the courtship lasts three days. ...read more