You’ve probably heard me say I don’t often enjoy “realism” in novels. No, no, I repeat in chorus, if I want to feel depressed, I’ll read the newspaper. If I want to philosophize about the world’s problems, I’ll read SFF. But Stacy Wakefield’s 2014 novel The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory is “realism” (sorry, I am unable to leave off the quotation marks because I see the borderline between real and unreal, fiction and nonfiction, as highly malleable) I can love and love and love.
Why? Because there aren’t a lot of books about anarchists and squatters that don’t cast them as trench-coated, bomb-throwing villains. That don’t show tropes and outsider fears instead of realistic, complex, well-meaning humans. While Sunshine Crust includes no direct political discussion of squatting whatsoever (my only complaint), it talks about so many things that are close to my heart, and my life.
Sunshine Crust deals with the good and the bad of the squatter scene and lifestyle, the hope and the despair, the ups and the downs, the dumpstered bagels (is there any squatter story that doesn’t mention dumpstered bagels?) and the dirt, while wrapping it in a plot that quickly entangled me, driving me to read its entire 222 pages in one day. That plot follows Sid as she moves to New York to join the squatting scene and, when that turns out to be stupidly exclusive, squat a building of her own. Or join some weirdos in their own recently squatted, beat up shit-hole building.
The characters—shitty and kind and lost and, most of all, real—felt like people I know. These are people I have met. But these are also people who Wakefield has done an excellent job of developing. I cared. I was attached. I partied with them and painted with them, climbed on roofs with them and cried with them. I wouldn’t have said no to another 222 pages.
The books about anarchists and squatters that aren’t depicting them in black trench coats with cartoon-ish bombs, tend to romanticize the scene and the lifestyle. Not Stacy Wakefield, and hats off to her for avoiding the trap. Because there is nothing romantic about unheated living spaces, pooping in a bag, hierarchical and cliquey inclusion and exclusion, or having all of your possessions destroyed by cranes while you watch because the government would rather see rubble than a squat. CrimethInc‘s Evasion is probably the most well-known example of the romantic, idealistic, homeless crust punk squatter novel. I loved that book at one time. But it is not realistic. It is not critical. It could use a few strokes from Stacy Wakefield’s pen.
If you are familiar with the squatting scene or any of the subcultures that rub up against it, you will see yourself and your friends (and probably your enemies) in this book and love it for its honesty. I am uncertain how a person who has never encountered this subculture, or felt the wild, freeing joy it can offer, will feel about the book. Horrified? Intrigued? Puzzled? (Particularly as the motivations behind the lifestyle are never discussed.) Maybe you can read it and tell me. But me? I want more books about squatters like Sunshine Crust.
Nine out of ten knuckle tattoos.
Flavor quote: “On my way out to the store, I glanced at my mural again. It looked foreign to me, like someone else had started it. Someone much more punk and angry than I was now. If I painted a squatter mural today, it would be something more humble. A little bird, maybe. Quietly building a nest for herself out of other people’s scraps.”
Where I got it: Sadly, my local book store couldn’t order it for me, and I had to resort to Amazon.