Book: The Orange Eats Creeps
Author: Grace Krilanovich (I can’t find her site – if anyone knows where it is, let me know please)
Type of Book: Fiction, experimental
Why Do I Consider This Book Odd: It is written like a drug-induced nightmare with no plot, characterization or coherence of thought and because I had to stop reading halfway through yet still want to discuss it.
Availability: Published by Two Dollar Radio in 2010, you can get a copy here:
Comments: I have been on a bad streak lately, book-wise. I struggled through a bland horror novel by one of my favorite writers and lost about two weeks as I forced myself to keep reading though I longed to quit and move on to something else. By the last 30 pages, I just skimmed and by the last ten pages I gave up. I followed it with a book that was supposedly about the social and sexual politics of using one’s body to make money, via stripping or peep shows or similar. When it became clear that the politics were really going to be whining about how hard it is to be a girl, like even middle class white chicks get called a slut if they sleep with a boy OMG, I put it down.
And that cheesy book of whining about sexual politics was followed by The Orange Eats Creeps. Well, it was followed by my final stab at the book. I began reading it back in March and had to put it down because I could not make sense of it. I began reading again in May and gave it my last try in June. I can’t get past page 95. I stopped reading with the knowledge I was never going to finish it.
That was a difficult thing for me to do. I have, in the past, taken a very hard line with my reading habits. If I begin a book, I tell myself I must finish it. But lately I cannot make myself operate this way. I just don’t have time left in my life to struggle through books that don’t interest me or books that are not good. Which is why it sucked so much to give up on The Orange Eats Creeps because it did, ultimately, interest me, and it was not a bad book. It just was too uncontrolled, too scattered and too lacking in what one needs to make a novel; you can open this book to any page and begin reading and it will make no more or less sense than if you begin reading from the first page. (And if it seems like dirty pool discussing a book I didn’t finish, I don’t make a habit of it, but I have done it before. But that book deserved it…)
Before I begin my discussion of the first 95 pages of this book, I need to get a rant out of the way. This book’s marketing was so utterly misleading that I suspect it pissed off many readers. Unless things are very different at Two Dollar Radio, most writers have no say in how their book is marketed. If I am wrong and Krilanovich approved of this approach I am all apologies, but I can’t imagine any writer would want their work so dreadfully misrepresented. This book is not about junkie vampires roaming the Pacific Northwest and encountering strange sights as they search for the protagonist’s sister. This book is not a new, fresh look at vampires, an adult’s replacement for the Twilight books. When I heard about this book and read some of the blurbs written about it, I thought, “Oh wow, this sounds like Near Dark but with grunge in the place of Southern culture on the skids.” That was not the case. Arguably, this is not a vampire novel at all. It is a stream-of-consciousness narrative that has no plot, no real characterization, and is the epitome of an experimental novel. It is difficult to follow, it has no linear story-telling, yet was marketed as follows:
A band of hobo vampire junkies roam the blighted landscape – trashing supermarket breakrooms, praying to the altar of Poison Idea and GG Allin at basement rock shows, crashing senior center pancake breakfasts – locked in the thrall of Robitussin trips and their own wild dreams.
In this book blog of mine, have I ever called anyone an asshole before? If I haven’t, let me start now. Whoever wrote the above, which is from the inside cover flap of the book and was reproduced on several book sale venues, is an asshole. Seriously. Because while some of the above is true, it paints a picture of this book that is not true, giving no hint to the fact that this is a difficult book, a book written in an experimental style. That was a mistake because despite the fact that I found this narrative so jagged and jangling, so much so that it was like a kaleidoscope in the form of a book, this book has its moments of narrative brilliance. Passing it off as a junkie vampire hobo book during the time Kurt Cobain ruled the Pacific Northwest robs this book of its purpose and taints it because those who wanted a vampire novel can only walk away annoyed.
“Praying to the altar” of anything gives the impression that these are kids who attend punk shows as a part of their credo of identity. That is not the case. Music is not mentioned much, and is barely a side note, if you will. And those shows are seen through the jumbled eyes of the teenage narrator whose name we never learn, and as a result, if music were important, it would have been robbed of its importance by the narrative style. “Crashing senior center pancake breakfasts” happened once before I stopped reading. The heroine ate several servings of pancakes and was doted over by the elderly denizens – you can’t crash a place where you are obviously welcome. Add to it that the said “crashing” took maybe three lines in the book and one wonders why it was mentioned at all on the inside cover flap. And “their own wild dreams?” Bullshit. There were no shared dreams. We don’t know a thing about anyone in this book other than the messy and chaotic mind of the protagonist. There is no “their” there.
And there is no vampire there, either. Be warned. This is not even a spoiler – this is a fact that becomes abundantly clear within the first ten pages or so. The girl’s mind cannot be trusted so you take it with a grain of salt when she says she is a vampire. She gets caught sucking on a man’s neck in her early teens and you know she is talking about sex in her fantastic, disjointed way. Later, when she speaks of vampirism, you know she is talking about drugs, her fears, her knowledge of her own inner predator. This is not a vampire novel. This is a novel of lost youth, of homeless kids addicted to anything they can get their hands on, roaming around and behaving badly. No more, no less.
The plot, such that there is, follows a small gang of young men and the narrator, our fucked-up heroine, as they wander about aimlessly and purposelessly. The heroine wants to find her sister Kim. They were in a foster home together and Kim took off and joined her own gang of “vampires.” The search for her takes place mainly in the heroine’s mind, but Kim occupies a lot of her thoughts. There is a passage in the book that can lead the reader to believe that there is no Kim, or that the narrator is Kim. If either is the case, then this really is a book without a plot, and simply an examination of a seriously fragmented mind. That is not a condemnation because these sorts of mental examinations can be very interesting.
But the heroine’s thoughts, her filtering of events in this book, are ultimately what made this book intolerable to me. I don’t know if I would have felt this way had I bought this book knowing what it really is. But I can say that even if I had known what I was in for, I still would have found the narrative bereft of meaning. Perhaps that was the point, and if it is, then clearly this was not going to be my cup of tea. It’s just one event after another, sometimes events within events, the past bleeding into the present with no clear delineation between the two, with no linear continuity, spewed forth from the mind of the heroine. This narrative is what I imagine my brain would be like if I were punched over and over in the face, unable to respond before the next punch landed.
That is what happened to me as I read this – my brain never had a chance to recover from one reeling inner dialogue to the next. The onslaught of the narrator’s memories combined with her current activities with no plot, no timeline, no framework of reason outside of the longing for Kim, rendered the punch of each of the memories meaningless.
I can’t fault Krilanovich for trying. It was a bold idea, to create this mental assault on the reader. But it was just too much. Combined with the misleading and shitty marketing, this book should be a complete failure.
But it isn’t. Once Krilanovich refines her voice, finds a way to assault the reader the way she wants without knocking us out before she can make her point, she will be in a fine position as she already possesses a capacity for breathtaking prose. There were moments of utter truth in this book. There were sections that I reread several times marveling at her talent. Take this scene in a restaurant where the narrator notices a strange girl whose strangeness will never get her the attention she needs:
But then I noticed the girl had barf all down the front of the dress and when she opened her mouth it went something like this: “You guys. I just wanted to let you know that my family is coming in here and they are with the fucking mob, okay? They are organized crime, gangsters. They will hurt you. Be careful, they will fuck you up. Just don’t say a word – be careful.” And the strange thing was that then these white people came into the diner and it was her family, her parents and a sibling, Midwestern types in honest wool and small gold jewelry . They sat and ordered breakfast while the girl spent the majority of the meal in the bathroom, regurgitating. She returned to the table and fell asleep. They laughed with their mouths closed, polished off their various plates and exited as the girl threw up on the booth and waiting area before leaving some vomit on the front door. But the family didn’t run out the door, they strolled – without even pretending to mime the international gesture for “Sorry, let me wipe all this up.” Outside they wrapped their safety belts firmly around their midsections and drove away, the girl just folded into the back seat somewhere. God knows where.
Jesus, I felt badly for both the family and the girl. In such a beige family, anyone odd was going to suffer but then again, it seems they had seen her at her worst for so long it didn’t even register. This reminded me of the scene in Se7en where Morgan Freeman is reading John Doe’s notebook, wherein he describes trying to make small talk but vomits all over the prating man who is talking to him, so sickened is he by the banality of it all.
This scene shows how excellent a writer Krilanovich is, but also gives a tiny, little taste of the disjointed nature of the narrative:
One summer I caught an evil little pet. I caged it but it ditched me. No problem. After it left me I made it do my bidding from afar. Now I have remote control over its doings, ties I hitched over endless indelible months of putrid wanderings. Walking lost, my body boiling like water until all the thoughts in my head just evaporate. The swath of vapor in the sky infects your lungs and forced me into bubbles in your brain with every predictable breath. That summer I was a teenage carnivore. On hot nights I dug little things here and there that I found buried in holes. Creeping around under steel overpasses downtown I lived with my eyes to the ground, struck by how many gutter punks, panhandlers, dumpster divers, gakkers, vagrants, and romantic tramps would never even fuckin get it: the fact that we have to dig for stuff we don’t understand cuz we live in a past we don’t understand. I found a videotape in among some other stuff. It was of some kids partying in an apartment. They were all high on speed, tattooing each other while the girl held her cat to her chest, drunk, lying down on her living room floor. She looked absently at what was going on around her, a bit bewildered perhaps but casually luxuriating in her drunken nonchalance. She flipped through religious pamphlets in the dark. I identified with that girl on the tape, her predicament leapt right out at me from her crooked mouth. She looked at me but her bangs hid it all.
This is jumbled, incoherent, stark and true, true especially for the really lost among the Generation X. The narrator is tied to her lost sister, identifying with other lost girls as she searches, mostly in her mind. She’s digging in the dirt but she’s never going to find the right lost girl. There are too many of them to narrow it down to just one.
Then there is this scene, and words fail me to explain why I love it so much:
Jacob said that nobody but Jacob owns his body. He decides who it fucks and who it pummels. “We own nothing but what’s inside. It’s the middle of the night in here,” he said, pointing to his chest. This is what we own: our thoughts, orange and sickly. You feed it nothing but sorrow and it grows and stars come out and you are the King of your own Island of Night.
Please bear in mind that these are but small samples of the narrative that beat my brain. At no time reading this book will you have any idea really of what is happening, and for some of you that is just fine. I know some of my readers crave a challenging narrative like I crave caffeine and clean carpets. But even within that which is challenging, this book takes challenging to a new level, a level of confusion wherein all an earnest reader can get from the experimental nature of the storytelling is the sickness from addiction, the loneliness of loss and an unrelenting sense of wallowing in that which is unclean. And that would have been good enough for me, given the gorgeousness of the prose, had the sickness, the loneliness and the wallow had any sort of narrative direction. They were just punches to the face and just when my head would clear and I could focus the next punch came. As a person who has had more than my fair share of substances running through my veins, I wonder how this book would have read to me drunk. Stoned. In the jittery aftermath of speed. I wonder what it would be like to be a fucked up girl reading about a fucked up girl, a girl so beyond fucked up that she may have defied explanation, resulting in marketing that had nothing to do with the meat of this book because there was no other way to market her.
I wonder how it would feel to be so punch drunk reading this that the blows of this windmilling narrative don’t even register. But thankfully I am not a fucked up girl anymore. I admit that fact may have been part of the problem reading this.
Even so, I want to keep my eye out for Krilanovich. I think she is a writer who will either get better and better with each novel or she will crack under the weight of unfocused talent. I tend to think it is the former and want to read her next venture to see if I am right.
7 thoughts on “The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich”
I really love this review. It doesn’t make me want to read the book, it makes me feel frustrated and ambivalent about the book. If that’s how you felt, then you masterfully communicated that.
Frustration and ambivalence are good words to sum up how I felt about this book. And ambivalence instead of unreserved bleah is almost worse because there was some lovely, intense, amazing writing in this book.
Thanks for the praise. I felt weird discussing a book I did not finish. 🙂
Great review. Fair and strict, but open-ended enough for me to decide whether I want to read the book – and now I do. I wonder if the book that will seem better to you as weeks go by.
The parts that shone have certainly stayed with me but I suspect that there is no way for the rest of the novel to seem better as time goes on. It was indeed so messy I could not finish it and I need at least the structure of being able to remember the plot in order to remember the pearls. What is more likely, and sad really, is that I bet there are more pearls I missed or never read because of the alienating narrative.
If you read it, please come back and share your opinion. I know a few people who make a case for it being one of the best books they have read.
I actually managed to finish it in, I think, a little over a week, which is really no more than average (for me) for a book this length. Yes, the narrative is fractured and confusing, but I also enjoyed the hell out of it. It was dark and creepy and nightmarish and (especially towards the end) incredibly sad. Above all, very original and inventive, which in literature is always a good thing.
I know you’ve probably half forgotten about this book by now, it has been a year and a half, but seeing as it’s practically the only book on this site that I’ve actually read, I thought I’d add my input.
P.S. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything for anybody, when I say that even by the end I *still* wasn’t sure if the sister existed or not.
Actually, I haven’t forgotten about the book and I really appreciate your comment. It’s never too late to discuss a book on this site.
I have thought about revisiting this book and treating it the way I treated House of Leaves. I tried to read House of Leaves in little bits in order to digest it but ultimately the only way I got anything from the book was by just holding my nose and jumping into the deep end. Reading it all in one go and not letting the distraction of the narrative become my own distraction.
There were pieces of this book that were utterly beautiful or completely true.
And I agree. I wasn’t sure if there was a sister or not.