When a deeply-flawed tell-all biography of the late artist X is released, her widow, CM Lucca, decides to correct the record and write a biography of X that will tell the truth about the mysterious iconoclast, a writer, artist, and enigmatic cultural figure. When she does, she opens a Pandora’s Box of troubling revelations about who X was, where she came from, and the duplicity which became her personality and her art.

CM had a passionate love for X, starting with a whirlwind affair that led to her divorce—probably a good thing, to be frank. They married with CM knowing little about X except what she could see and experience in the moment. The past didn’t matter; who you were is not who you are; who you are is what you do. CM’s expectations were that, once they were married and settled into life, the barriers would come down, and everything about X’s past would come to light. In some ways it seemed like a game, a ritual of artistic and personal purity; in others, a challenge, a dare. But when life seems good in the now, why excavate the past?

When the definitive biography of X is released, with neither X’s or CM’s cooperation, mind, CM knows, well, she knows a few things: the friends and acquaintances who cooperated with the author are traitors; X is not the person on the paper; X is not the person she knows.

As CM follows a trail of breadcrumbs to X’s origin, Lacey uncovers an alternate history to her world. After World War II, the United States divided into three territories. Driven by a rebellion, the Southern Territory developed into a fascist theocracy, while the Western Territory became something of a laissez-faire Libertarian stronghold, and the Northern Territory resembling a liberal democracy. As CM investigates X’s past, the chasm of this split is only beginning to be healed, but not without a lot of southern recalcitrance.

Having uncovered X’s mystery, CM delves deeper into the detritus of X’s life, as evidenced by papers, interviews with friends, enemies, and those who fall somewhere in between. She tries to pin down an iconoclastic life separating truth from fiction, art from bullshit, and herself from the oppressive and consuming shadow of X. The reality (can one call anything in this book a reality?) is that the omnipresent (even in death) X built a grotesque funhouse in the name of Art (capital A—Art) and Manipulation (capital M, just because) and leaves CM stumbling, deluded through a world where even her memories are unreliable.

I loved this book; Lacey has rewritten recent history in such an astounding way that the reader is mystified, but perfectly accepting of the new landscape. She sprinkles pop culture Easter eggs throughout in the historical characters X brushes against (or brushes off), or via historical anecdotes. The result is dizzying and compelling, a lot of dark, tense fun.