The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich: Literary Creeps Eat Novel, Tell World
Last month I was commenting on Facebook about the best non-realist fiction of 2010 and someone mentioned enjoying The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich and that it featured an introduction by Steve Erickson, probably the best surrealist writer in the United States. This made me sit up and take notice, and I got the book and read it immediately--especially since it seemed to answer the question posed last week on the Guardian's website: Where did the decadent novel go?
I'd tend to agree with Erickson in his somewhat breathy assessment that "The exhilaration of such a novel is nearly beyond calculation. If a new literature is at hand then it might as well begin here." But I find his associating the novel with the Decadents and the Beats to be perhaps more helpful. As is Shelley Jackson's blurby observation that The Orange Eats Creeps is "Like something you read on the underside of a freeway overpass in a fever dream....visionary, pervy, unhinged. It will mess you up." Brian Evenson's comparison is also on the mark: "Reads like the foster child of Charles Burns' Black Hole and William Burroughs' Soft Machine. A deeply strange and deeply successful debut."
The jacket copy provides some assistance in describing the "plot," although this anchors falls short of being as useful as you might expect given the novel's approach to language: "the '90s Pacific Northwest is refracted through a dark mirror, where meth and madness hash it out in the woods. . . . 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. A girl with drug-induced ESP and an eerie connection to Patty Reed (a young member of the Donner Party who credited her survival to her relationship with a hidden wooden doll), searches for her disappeared foster sister along 'The Highway That Eats People,' stalked by a conflation of Twin Peaks' "Bob" and the Green River Killer, known as Dactyl."
Given the difficulties of discussing the narrative, because it is twisty and different and surreal, I thought it might be interesting to form a troika with literary bloggers Paul Charles Smith (Empty Your Heart of Its Mortal Dream) and Larry Nolen (The Of Blog), who have an interest in Decadent and cross-genre fiction, and all three post reactions to the novel on the same day.
Here are excerpts from those reviews, with links to the full versions.
Empty Your Heart of Its Mortal Dream: "The Orange Eats Creeps, the debut novel from Grace Krilanovich, has been getting press as a novel about “slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies” and while they do feature, the novel is about so much more. I don’t want to tell you what the novel is “about” as there are so many different layers, so many angles, things to be expanded upon and considered for the reread. The narrative is scattered and disjointed, punctuated by the past and the future, fantasy and reality, dreams and nightmares, and it is often hard to tell what is real, giving the novel a touch of almost nightmarish insanity. It creates a sense of dread, an all encompassing fatalism as a conscious or subconscious will to annihilation that outstrips any horror that could be created from hobo vampires or unseen serial killers." Read the full review.
The OF Blog: "The Orange Eats Creeps contains so many levels of reaction and interaction within its 172 pages that sometimes tangled knots appear. There were times that the blurred lines between the narrator's dreamtime and her waking moments became so intertwined that it was difficult to pick out just what was really occurring, although it should be noted that this seems to be precisely Krilanovich's intent, that of exploring what happens when events crash together and are subsumed by the internal conflict of the narrator. Sometimes, the intensity of the narrator's thoughts and the passivity she took to some horrific events overwhelmed certain elements of the story; the drug-induced ESP and the connections alluded to in the blurb quoted above to the Donner Party girl were neglected for large stretches of the story. Yet despite these moments of confusion and underdevelopment, on the whole The Orange Eats Creeps was a horrific, visceral novel that grabbed my attention and made me confront several unsettling aspects about the banal evils that surround us." Read the full review.
Ecstatic Days: "Rimbaud, Huysman, Kiernan, Brite--they're all in there, along with a very dark, almost malevolent sense of humor. Luckily, the author doesn't hamstring the text by trying to pull back, trying to make the narrator seem nice at any point or non-judgmental, or even the text itself. The novel also has an attachment to both specific detail of a sometimes disturbing kind---rendered in a way that highlights this disturbance but by sheer dint of being so well-defined makes it also compelling and at times oddly beautiful--and lovely changes of direction and emphasis within paragraphs and within pages." Read the full review.