The Orange Eats Creeps
The Orange Eats Creeps isn't exactly a book that inspires blanket recommendation. That's not a backhanded way of saying it's a bad book, it's just best suited to a certain type of reader. I could throw down the gauntlet of difficult fiction, much like Steve Erickson does in his introduction, but that would be disingenuous. Not that Erickson isn't being sincere when he brands the book as dangerous; I just find that type of build-up inevitably leads to backlash.
Whatever puts eyes on paper, right? I'll admit Erickson was the cheese that lured me into this mousetrap of print and binding, but his involvement is no mere selling point. There is an honest to goodness connection there. Author Grace Krilanovich received her masters in writing from CalArts, where Erickson is a professor. Not only that, Creeps is the only novel to have been excerpted twice in Black Clock, the literary magazine he edits, indicating a legitimate interest in her art. His intro isn't a blurb written as a professional courtesy; it is an enthusiastic endorsement. And in the absence of new material from Erickson, an endorsement is the next best thing.
That's when the spring-loaded bar came crashing down on my neck. The Orange Eats Creeps is a surreal coming of age horror story, a drug-fueled rape fantasy threatening to overtake reality. Almost every sentence is a half-remembered dream of suppressed emotion, which makes summarizing the narrative a difficult endeavor. The synopsis on the jacket puts it best- a girl with drug induced ESP... searches for her disappeared foster sister along "The Highway That Eats People." Throw in some comparisons to Twin Peaks and a serial killer named Dactyl and you've got yourself an interested me. Unfortunately, it's all a little misleading. Creeps doesn't really have much of an arc; it's more of a free-form, stream of consciousness nightmare. To enjoy the book for what it is, I'd recommend steering clear of any and all descriptive material. You probably shouldn't even be reading this review. In order to avoid expectations that cannot possibly be fulfilled, it should be expunged from your mind immediately.
Speaking of minds, as I tried to wrap mine around Creeps, I couldn't help but think of my review of John Belushi Is Dead. The two books couldn't be more different, yet they deal with essentially the same subject matter. And although taking place in a drug-fueled fantasy world, Creeps is a much more honest depiction of youth culture. Does that make it a YA novel? It's hard to say. All I know is I'd hesitate to let children anywhere near it. Erickson references the vogue of vampires, but I've already used up my allotted Twilight references in other reviews, so I will refrain from making any more. All I'll say is that although the V word is used multiple times, this is not a vampire novel.
Erickson goes on to say that Creeps is not in the tradition of any contemporary writer, popular or otherwise, but I disagree. There is more than a healthy dose of Burroghs in Krilanovich's writing, and she owes the man a great debt. That being said, her use of language is consistently inventive and washes over the reader with a tidal ebb and flow. The initial impulse is to panic, but fighting will only make it worse. It is better to open yourself up and let the words fill your lungs as you calmly accept your fate.
So wipe that slate clean and take a chance on what is surely one of the more interesting literary experiences in recent times. You may decide "interesting" is a stand-in for pretentious or boring or bad, or you may decide it is a stand-in for the word brilliant. Either way, The Orange Eats Creeps is sure to make an impression. You may have already decided whether this book is for you or not, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you're right.