When a book’s cover touts it as “the best book about men and women written in the last century,” you nominate it for your book club.
Or at least that’s what I was thinking when I put forward Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick for my own. It’s what I was thinking until about 50 pages in, when I realized I’d made a huge mistake.
I really wanted to like this book. A semi-fictional retelling of Kraus’ IRL obsessions with professor Dick Hebdige, the memoir/novel follows Kraus as she and her husband Sylvère meet an artist named Dick and, after an objectively uneventful dinner, become obsessed with him. They begin writing letters to Dick, which Kraus ultimately presents to him as an art project of sorts. While the Dick obsession eventually takes its toll on Kraus and Sylvère’s marriage, and Kraus and Dick do eventually sleep together, the majority of ILD is devoted to these awkward encounters and ambiguous exchanges, and to Kraus’ increasingly cringe-worthy attempts to get Dick’s attention.Kraus’ book was recently adapted into an Amazon show, starring Kathryn Hahn (of Transparent) as Kraus and Kevin Bacon as Dick. The show, while equally cringe-y, is at times laugh-out-loud funny; in its slightly altered plot, Kraus is a hopelessly awkward artist who finds herself stuck in Marfa, Texas, with Sylvère, who has a fellowship at the local college (in the book they go on a road trip).
In the book and on the show, Kraus is an arch observer of academia—because Sylvère is researching the Holocaust, his colleagues refer to her as “the Holocaust wife”—and a forceful critic of the double standards applied to men and women in art. There’s a great scene in the show where Dick, in a gallery of his own work, is fawning over a sculpture that he says depicts his love of “clean lines.” The sculpture is essentially a plain brick standing on its end.
I found that wry humor harder to identify in Kraus’ book, or at least her self-serious tone more overpowering. And maybe that’s the point? That women can be weird, insecure, and still super creative Judd Apatow characters, too? Except I love Dick was written in 1997; in 2017 that doesn’t feel as revelatory a proposition.
One more pet peeve: Kraus’ book is chock full of very specific references to artists and authors with whom I’m not super familiar. And while I’m not so lazy as to expect a glossary, I do think there’s a certain art to talking about art that your audience may not know. Which is to say that for a book written pre-Google, I Love Dick is better when paired with a lot of googling.
Silver lining? This was one of my favorite book club meetings ever, and that’s only partially because we drank a lot of vodka.
TITLE: I Love Dick
AUTHOR: Chris Kraus
PAGES: 280 pages
ALSO WROTE: Aliens & Anorexia, Summer of Hate
SORTA LIKE: The Argonauts meets You’re the Worst
FIRST LINE: “Chris Kraus, a 39-year-old experimental filmmaker, and Sylvère Lotringer, a 56-year-old college professor from New York, have dinner with Dick ____, a friendly acquaintance of Sylvère’s, at a sushi bar in Pasadena.”