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Socialist Realism

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  268 ratings  ·  42 reviews
When Trisha Low moves west, her journey is motivated by the need to arrive "somewhere better"--someplace utopian, like revolution; or safe, like home; or even clarifying, like identity. Instead, she faces the end of her relationships, a family whose values she has difficulty sharing, and America's casual racism, sexism, and homophobia. In this book-length essay, the proble ...more
Paperback, 168 pages
Published August 13th 2019 by Coffee House Press
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Average rating 4.34  · 
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Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My Review for the Chicago Review of Books:


"It's no wonder, as Wendy Brown points out, that suffering has always been the barometer of authenticity, and authenticity has in turn become proof of identity. Your bleeding wound is the evidence that allows you to name yourself part of a group; shared wounds have historically been the impetus for political solidarity. Movements are brotherhoods of suffering that gather numbers and grow, forming the bonds th
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
Aug 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Home - it’s always been the dream. But what composes it? Wanting to belong somewhere, to feel comfortable returning to a place. Home is conceptual, immaterial. Architecture, then, is it’s manifestation: it’s what we build in response to our desire for place, how we design the structures that hold us. Some place so delicious we can only date imagine how it might one day arrive.”

This book-length essay was a really unique read - being quite stream of consciousness with no further breaks in the tex
Megan O'Hara
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
gotta go scream for the rest of my life!!! struggling in futility is really fundamental to the human condition in a way that makes me sick :-) she presents truly so much in 160 pgs that's alternately horrible and wonderful to think about. and in thee face of the gnawing anxiety of living in end-times the only option is to not give up even if you really don't believe anything better is coming. this is the most nihilistic optimistic book and the only one to meet me where I'm at in this godforsaken ...more
Alanna Why
Feb 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Absolutely lost my fucking mind when Trisha Low went from a paragraph about One Direction into a paragraph about Turkish political prisoners/death-fasters back into a paragraph about One Direction.
Apr 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reviewed for Bookforum 9/2019 -- here's an excerpt:

Where The Compleat Purge relished in performing the delicious narcissism of the morbidly melodramatic teen girl, Low’s new book Socialist Realism is decidedly Adult. More restrained, less indulgent, and properly, legibly, nonfiction, Socialist Realism is a mostly earnest, always engrossing long essay that charts a personal quest for utopia in the form of some kind of home. If this second book is not, frankly, as fun as her first, its pleasures
Sarah Etter
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorites of this year so far - Trisha Low hits hard with precise sentences, a look at a move across California, art, sexuality, and the cultural impact of social media. I absolutely devoured this book and I felt excited about the exacting nature of Trisha's view of the world. Excited to see others dive into this beautiful portrait of life as it feels right this very moment.
Eileen Werner
Feb 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A tragicomedy of self and society. Low has composed an impressive collage of memoir, art critique, political theory, and philosophy that is as relatable as it is relevant. Highly recommend for depressive realists still secretly hoping they might just live forever.
Wendy Liu
The form is unusual - it's less a book than it is a long personal essay that jumps between registers and topics - but it really worked for me. Thoughtful and beautifully written. I couldn't put it down.
Nils Jepson
Sep 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Mid-read yesterday I realized why personal essays are so hit or miss for me — they're innately "me" and "them" with very little room in the middle for complexity. To write so completely in your voice, from your perspective with your opinions kind of erases the complexities of everyone else around you. It has too. Your family, your friends, your lovers, your enemies are all just characters in your life, distant if still alive, while you're the only one who is really real.

There are ways to get ar
Ted J. Gibbs
Aug 14, 2020 rated it did not like it
Maybe I'm just like all the other girls after all.
Am I?

Well, this is one of the worst books I've read in a long time. Trisha Low is, in her own words, 'someone who routinely performs, of her own volition, suicide notes she may or may not have written at various points in her life.' The aestheticisation of mental illness is clearly something that comes naturally to our beloved narrator, given a later passage that is probably the most offensive piece of liberal writing I have ever read. But I'm pu
Jacob Wren
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"No matter what anyone believes, only she knows that Art cannot save a whale but can ruin someone’s personal life. She writes a poem that will ruin someone’s personal life – her own."
Florence Li
Jun 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: homing
i so appreciated the nuances, complexities and relationships that were subtly described and implied around ideas of home, belonging, desire and obligation, especially the tensions between a liminal sense of cultural and deeper belonging between the US and singapore/hk
Oct 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Another rambling book about art n stuff. Good if that’s what you’re looking for.
Cassandra Gillig
May 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
what to make of a life? im thankful to live in a time where trisha low tries to answer this question for us, modeling uncertainty in art, death, love, home (all inevitably exposed as one big clot that perils yet substantiates existence)--how to make sense of this world we occupy against all sanity & odds, to make sense of all one's urges & desires & missteps. &, too, the exhaustion of where one's from being so discordant w/ where one is or needs 2 b. trisha's writing on self-destructive urges is ...more
Sage Jacobs
Dec 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
The intellectual gymnasium of Trisha Low's Socialist Realism is so impressive and huge. Her mind tumbles and splits from wildly disparate ideas, images and resources to continuously create cohesive and symbiotic mergings of everything from the idea of home, otherness, queerness, culture, philosophy, mental illness, art, seeing and being seen, politics, the personal, freedom, individuality, metonyms (which I didn't know the definition of until I read this book) and sexuality. What at first I thou ...more
Nov 12, 2019 rated it really liked it
A dense and intimate exploration of home, longing, utopia, and family while living through the pressures of late capitalism. Low was born & raised in Singapore but went to school in the UK & the US and now lives in SF. Very elliptical yet thoughtful writing. . . there's no certainty here, which I enjoy. In one interview I read with Low, she said that she "really wanted to make something that felt like how life happens" and I think she succeeded. Felt like reading a really smart perzine. Fans of ...more
May 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I discovered Socialist Realism after hearing Trisha Low read from it in a friend's living room in Cincinnati where, IMO, she was totally the star of the show (which also featured another poet and a local 'boy band' of grown-up male poets who also happen to play instruments). I opened Socialist Realism while lying on my couch eating potato chips, and Low's charming, funny, smart, warm, and original voice instantly transported me: the book reads like an all-encompassing late-night conversation wit ...more
Paul Scott
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
A hard book to describe. Very like a memoir (very like a whale) for long stretches, but includes several extended discussions of aesthetics and politics as well.

From the intersection of aesthetics and politics arises the book's interest in socialist realism, I would guess. Socialist realism was the officially approved aesthetic of the USSR in the 1930s--novels like Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered, paintings like those by Aleksandr Samokhalov of buff and attractive factory workers. I was u
I picked this up at the library in my frenzied pre-lockdown rush in March because I liked the cover and the title, without even glancing at the back. 2/3 of the way through Socialist Realism I still have no fucking idea what it's about or what the point is.

All the little paragraph-to-several-pages bits that Low stitches this book out of are 3 to 4 out of 5 stars, but in order to figure out what the relationship is between them you'd have to do a much more intensive close reading than I am willin
Delia Rainey
Sep 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
wow .... fragmented book-long essay on utopia, searching for freedom in an access to many rooms, many homes, or looking for one home, where you came from, as an act to make the world a better place ... some rlly mind-blowing shit about the need to take care of community, to have blind belief, even as the capitalistic world keeps getting more and more unlivable ... a book abt "the struggle", in terms of sacrificing for the future we won't see, in terms of masochism, in terms of needing to love ot ...more
Ammi Bui
Nov 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Reading this felt like watching a French film from the 70s/80s. There were sections that made me wonder what the fuck I was reading and what is this book really about, and there were memorable passages that felt profoundly beautiful. Trisha Low is incredibly into art (we know this because she talks a lot about going to art shows and describes them in detail) and European cinema, and she writes like she is putting on a moving art exhibit or showing us a bizarre, New Wave-y French film. She is an ...more
Aug 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing
“I wanted to believe in the possibility of utopia, some fulcrum between our nostalgia for the sordid past and the exciting promise of the future. But it’s hard to know where to find yourself. It’s hard to know how to get there when the only constant is how the background tends to fade. When we’re all trying to figure out what’s real.”
Jun 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
very timely, exquisitely wrought memoir peppered with fascinating anecdotes and meditations on queerness, politics, art, love, etc etc. if you liked "I Love Dick" you'll probably enjoy this too. at times it veers a little too indulgent, too sharp, maybe? nonetheless, super super worth yr time, i'll definitely be re-reading soon.
Jul 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The type of wide-ranging book-length essay that gets a wide publishing distribution like once every 18 months, and I love it nearly every time. Trisha Low travels through multiple different topics, anecdotes, and discoveries, sometimes weaving them together and sometimes just wanders through them. Their writing is consistently engaging. Lovers of Maggie Nelson would do well to pick this up.
Sep 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Really enjoyed this one. Her details on emotions and social observations gutted me. Highly relatable, almost to an anxiety inducing amount. Having one foot in American culture and the other in her Asian heritage felt honest with its harsh differences. Sexuality played a fair role in her identity, but her hunting for love with others and self if what made me stick around till the end.
Meg Brown
Apr 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lgbt, socialism, bisexual, bwa
"Masochism isn't a fantasy. It's not some shallow performance. It's about acknowledging our lack of choices in the face of power, about recognizing our ultimate helplessness. It's about defying it nonetheless. Masochism is not being able to struggle correctly. It's about choosing to do it anyway."
Oct 28, 2020 rated it liked it
This book greatly impressed, but oddly did not move, me. It made me both excited and bored. It is still one of my favourite reads of the year. I would love to meet Trisha Low in person, although somehow I just don’t think I would ever turn up, or turn up on time.
Jul 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a captivating essay, emotionally urgent at the same time that it is tirelessly analytical and scholarly. Important and engaging. Well worth reading.
Jul 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Superb. Fantastic. Raw. Real. Reflective. Intimate. Engaging. Curious. Questioning. Radical.

Look for my full review of this book later this summer.
Aug 28, 2019 added it
Shelves: did-not-finish
got to page 30. reminded me a bit of maggie nelson if she listened to blink 182 growing up
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