The title immediately hooked me and what made me stay was the stark, brutal honesty that Trisha Low offers in SOCIALIST REALISM.
This is a book long essay that is part travelogue, part stream of conscious, part art criticism, and part memoir. Low finds herself moving west, searching for home or a utopia or an identity, anything that will pin her down. She reflects and examines the end of relationships, her partially estranged family, the United States’ toxic culture of oppression of sexism, racism, and homophobia. She attempts to unite her desires and radical politics, while also encouraging the reader to ask themselves if their most earnest desires keep us moving or trap us instead.
Reading such a fluid essay can leave one seemingly adrift, which I am somewhat willing to speculate was Low’s point. I want to emphasize that I am only speculating here though, especially with such a personal work. It does beg the question of how we need to find ourselves in this consumerist culture more than ever. Maybe we don’t find it in “things” or “identities” but we just purely live for ourselves that might be good enough.
Don’t get me wrong, this book is not a hopeless one, by the end you can feel a small bit of hope rising through the cracks. Low does not mean to be gloom and doom, but the casual way she deconstructs her family’s attitudes, the cultures, even her own, it can become rather hollow after a while. The examinations of art deflect these insights and seek concrete release through the criticism she offers of them.
I did not know exactly what socialist realism meant until I went looking and the striking “normality” of it all makes sense why she chose to title this work so. The undercurrent here is that, socialist realistic art is an utter farce. It was meant to depict an ideal, when history has proven that it was ultimately a mask to the brutal reality underneath.
If you’re looking for a compelling, semi-experimental work of non-fiction, then SOCIALIST REALISM is one that will fit the bill.