Lost and Congealed
The Orange Eats Creeps
(Two Dollar Radio, 2010, 2010)
You don’t exactly read Grace Krilanovich’s debut novel The Orange Eats Creeps; you trip and fall into it. And as you slide down the muddy bank into some stagnant ditch, you suddenly realize you’re a long way from home. But maybe not.
The story is told through a series of loose, erratic scenes that provide glimpses of the turmoil brewing inside the nameless narrator, a teenage girl who languidly travels throughout the Pacific Northwest with her “band of hobo vampire junkies.” She is searching for the only thing that matters to her—her foster sister, Kim. Though for the most part the narrator feigns indifference, she is filled with anger and confusion over Kim’s disappearance. The narrator, lost somewhere between the past and the future, sees Kim as an anchor in a world that’s suddenly become alien.
I could see the writing on the wall. It wasn’t the ’90s. It wasn’t even the Pacific Northwest anymore. Something had come and swept that all away and I was left cooped up in a stinky sarcophagus dreaming of the place where I was born, feeling very sad because that place, too, had been gathered up and stuffed into the mouth of the world. I felt caught halfway through somebody’s poorly maintained digestive tract.
For the narrator and her male accomplices, time melts into colors. “The night is brown browntime, the day is orange orangetime, then pink pinktime.” They spend their time trashing supermarkets, listening to hardcore punk bands, and sleeping in abandoned cars. But this is not your typical tale of teenage angst (or teenage vampires). There are no noble acts of goodness, just lots of drugs. And there’s no forbidden love, just sex with strangers in gas station bathrooms. As the novelist Steve Erickson writes in the introduction to The Orange Eats Creeps, “Twilight this isn’t.”
Something more sinister is at work here. This is a story filled with dread and hopelessness. It oozes filth and decay. Everything is broken and damp, rotting. Krilanovich’s fragmented writing style reflects this disorder, and her poetic language leads us into jagged scenes, unearthing a strange sort of beauty from the mundane (“All over the country storage containers sat full and silent on the ground. Alone in the dark; issuing forth negative energy, the kind only stored objects can bring out. Throbbing in the dark”), and the ugly (“I opened a jar and flies flew out and got lost in a mess of my hair”).
Krilanovich was recently named one of the National Book Foundation’s 2010 “5 Under 35.” It’s an honor that’s already begun to stir up attention for The Orange Eats Creeps, and hopefully it will lead to a wider audience. The narrator at one point describes herself as being “congealed”—a fitting description for the novel. It’s raw and seething. It snatches up the reader and doesn’t let go until the surprising twist at the end, which is perhaps the most frightening part of the book. This wretched, congealed world suddenly doesn’t seem so distant. The result is a creepy uneasiness and an impulse to look over your shoulder.