A novel set in 1991, post-MTV, pre-AOL: Sylvie, longing for a life more like the TV show thirtysomething, sets off with her husband, Columbia University professor Jerome, to Romania to adopt a child.
Sylvie wanted to believe that misery could simply be replaced with happiness. Time was a straight line, stretching out before you. If you could create a golden kind of time and lay it right beside the other time, the time of horror, Bad History could just recede into the distance without ever having to be resolved.—from Torpor
Set at the dawn of the New World Order, Chris Kraus's third novel, Torpor loops back to the beginning of the decade that was the basis of I Love Dick, her pseudo-confessional cult-classic debut. It's summer, 1991, post-MTV, pre-AOL. Jerome Shafir and Sylvie Green, two former New Yorkers who can no longer afford an East Village apartment, set off on a journey across the entire former Soviet Bloc with the specious aim of adopting a Romanian orphan. Nirvana's on the radio everywhere, and wars are erupting across Yugoslavia. Unhappily married to Jerome, a 53-year-old Columbia University professor who loathes academe, Sylvie thinks only of happiness. At 35, she dreams of stuffed bears and wonders why their lives lack the tremulous sincerity that pervades thirtysomething, that season's hot new TV show. There are only two things, Sylvie thinks, that will save them: a child of their own, and the success of The Anthropology of Unhappiness, her husband's long-postponed book on the Holocaust. But as they move forward toward impoverished Romania, Jerome's memories of his father's extermination at Auschwitz and his own childhood survival impede them. Savagely ironic and deeply lyrical, Torpor explores the swirling mix of nationalisms, capital flows and negative entropy that define the present, haunted by the persistence of historical memory. Written in the third person, it is her most personal novel to date.
Chris Kraus believes in 'subliminal cross-referencing' of times and cultures and describes it in a lively and highly entertaining language free of unnecessary academic musings. Somewhat like that great art historian and sociologist Arnold Hausser, the author believes in the spirit of her own age but is able to treat it with 'grace' that is refracted through the multicontoured mirror of all other preceding eras.
American Book Review
Chris Kraus combines fiction, autobiography and criticism in ways that are as funny and provocative as her titles (Aliens and Anorexia, for example).
Los Angeles Times Book Review
Chris, and her generation of feminist theoreticians, e.g., Avital Ronell, Jane Gallup, Kathy Acker, Eileen Myles, did much more to embody the possibilities that were made possible by May 1968 and the critical writing of Tel Quel, etc., than the men who staked out all the early positions before succumbing to tenure.
Torpor is as good a Grand Tour love story as James or Wharton, as good a memoir of Upstate New York as Edmund Wilson or Frederick Exley, a brilliant study of a Holocaust survivor, a brilliant study of the moral character of philosophers, the art world, academia, ambition, real estate, sex, orphans, and the fall of Romania. Kraus is as fun a travel writer as Ian Fleming, with a touch of Travels With Charley, and she writes about the strangeness of the world in a clear American prose filled with emotion, but with no vapors of style and forced effect to hide behind. I've read all of her books. Chris Kraus is a great writer.
Michael Tolkin, author of Among the Dead
[The narrative is] so startling that it resuscitates words long fallen out of fashion: Torpor is honest and true.
Torpor concerns itself with a feminist filmmaker consumed and confounded by the intellect and desire of a rapacious philosopher-lover. It's personalized and smart with open thought and independent energy.
Torpor is a brilliant, funny, and moving novel about the failure of a marriage and the moral vacuum created by the global 'success' of contemporary American culture.
A very cool surprise.
Dazzling... [A] hilarious and biting satire of academia and the art world.
Kraus is an underrated thinker and critic; her books form a compelling record of recent art and culture, and make substantial contributions to both.
Kraus's occasionally terse style, her use of time and place and lexicon and architecture and cultural mood in place of communications or feelings is a new language. A non-emotional language for emotions. I want to tell her thank you, and mazel tov. Lisa Carver The Globe and Mail