“Experiential derangement and a carnal nihilism.” That’s how Steven Erickson describes Grace Krilanovich’s debut novel The Orange Eats Creeps (2010, Two Dollar Radio) in the novel’s forward. Yes, yes, fitting words, certainly, but… It is also an oogle anthem (maybe THE oogle novel). It is also perversion and desire. Memory and metaphor. Longing and lost love. Train hopping and drugs. Sexism and promiscuity. Convenience-store robbery and hobo vampirism. But you could throw words at this novel all day and none of them would stick.
“The sun is setting. The hobo vampires are waking up, their quest for crank and blood is just beginning.”
The Orange Eats Creeps is a delightfully weird read and hard to discuss only because it is difficult to define, non-linear, plot-less, inconsistent. So why was it so fucking captivating? Could the language really have been enough to keep me focused for 172 pages? Perhaps…though in the moments when I recognized what was going on—people, places, basement punk shows—the strange spell of Krilanovich’s words affected me all the more, veiling and distorting reality in one of the few magic tricks capable of transforming the mundane into the utterly alien.
The Orange Eats Creeps is unapologetically itself, which is to say original, which is to say holy shit I haven’t read a book like this in a long time. Maybe ever.
Weird, pervy, experimental, nonlinear, plotless, bliss. Am happy for the reminder of what’s possible in fiction. pic.twitter.com/qT8SVCxEyZ
— Book Punks (@bookpunks) August 17, 2015
At its most coherent, the writing in The Orange Eats Creeps is like this:
“Dislodged of family and self-knowledge of your origins you become free in the most sinister way. Some call it having a restless soul. That’s a phrase usually reserved for ghosts, which is pretty apt. I believe that my eyes filter out things that are true. For better or worse, for good or merciless, I can’t help but go through life with a selective view. My body does it without conscious thought or decision. It’s a problem only if you make it one.” (1)
Or like this:
“Then came this skinny redhead kid Murph, with a willow tree tattoo all up his right arm, who looked like he wanted to steal some fruit. They gave him a beer. Just some lone wolf kid who probably ran away from his group home but we couldn’t tell for sure, he just seemed kind of crazy if only in that militant chain-smoking vegan way.” (19)
At its most flippantly sexual the writing looks like this:
“With effortless grace the man yanked my skirt up over my butt while he simultaneously pushed my head down toward the sink. He was small and I barely noticed him.” (14) That is an entire sex scene. I cut nothing. Sex scenes like that just fall into the middle of paragraphs every couple of pages.
Some paragraphs jump from setting to setting from now to then to maybe this isn’t even happening, and the words dance and sing but maybe not in a language your conscious mind can decipher. Is this “a bitter bleached cartoon of what had really happened”? (151) Are these fucking junky hobo kids really drinking blood? (Probably, but that doesn’t make them vampires. They also eat chips and sunflower seeds.) But as we near the end of the story, Krilanovich gives us a bit of advice: “…try to find a way around coming to any conclusions because there aren’t any.” (152)
So many hints, so many clues…maybe there is a coherent, pulsing center hidden amidst the empty bottles and used condoms? Morse code tapped out in scraps of sentences and casual comments? It is a puzzle, and that is something to love about it. It makes you think, and that is something to keep the Alzheimer’s away. And keep you re-reading. I like that in a book.
“Stop! Stop describing what you see! You’ll kill us all!” (122)
As the story moves out of the city and into the forest, it becomes harder to maintain the proposition that, yes, this was all just a very well-disguised metaphor. (The style also became a bit tedious for me at this point, however.) Is it about storytelling? Is it about truth? Sex? Drugs? Breaking into convenience store break rooms to have sex? Is it about abuse in foster homes? Rape? Vampires? Punk rock? Sexism in punk rock? Oogles? Being a teenager? Train hopping? Love? The search for your lost sister? Your imaginary sister? Your lover? It is pretty safe to say it is about all of those things; and none of them. Take that linear narrative! Take that plot! Score one for the word freaks.
This isn’t the kind of book that becomes a bestseller, but it is the kind of book that becomes cult.
And hey, look, my favorite, commentary on male privilege: “No matter where I went, and to what shows, there was always some guy on stage singing about leaving all of this to go live where you could do whatever you want—as if people magically stopped chasing you when you reached some trees and a burpy little creek. Guys will always try to act exactly the way they want, which is to say, they will always seek out ways to make their lives perfect and exemplary artworks of mastery over ‘The Forces.’ They can typically do whatever they want, which makes what they actually do do that much more unbearable.” (68)
The pieces of The Orange Eats Creeps don’t combine so much into a coherent whole as a slow dripping atmosphere, a dizzy, drunk, deluded high that reminded me of the feeling of a night in Asheville, North Carolina, the music and the whiskey and the alleyway brawls and oaths. (Never drink whiskey on a full moon.) It reminded me that so much more is possible in fiction.
Nine out of ten bottles of Robitussin.
Where I got it: Local bookstore
Where you can get it: Amazon US