Title: The Orange Eats Creeps
Pagecount:172 (73 completed)
Author:Grace Krilanovich (A)
I couldn’t finish this book.
I was impressed I made it to page seventy three. After the first twenty pages I almost put it down. I swore to myself I would soldier on. But, like France in World War Two, I crumbled like bleu cheese into a salad.
I picked up The Orange Eats Creeps because the woman who wrote it wrote it primarily at the MacDowell Colony, an artist’s retreat in my home state. The book itself was named one of the top ten of 2010 by Shelf Unbound.
…are these people blind?
Now it’s clear that Krilanovich has the ability. The book, at times, smacks of an ear for longer lyrical sentences and has a natural grasp of the quadruple entendre. There is definitely some talent somewhere in this woman. I’m just not being enthralled by it. I’ve said before that if a book doesn’t interest me by the end of the first few pages, I won’t read it. Problem being that this book has, if not one of the best opening lines ever, then certainly one of the most interesting:
The sun is setting. The hobo vampires are waking up, their quest for crank and blood is just beginning.
You’d think that line about vampires would put me off, but it intrigued me. Krilanovich creates a world of vampires who don’t fit any of the current popular molds- the agonized lover, the dangerous monster, the repentant sinner. Instead they are angry teenagers, breaking loose of their families and old ways of life to travel around, living only on what impulses any teenager would live on, if given the choice- sex and drugs.
The book follows a female protagonist who travels with an ever changing group of teenage vampires, riding the rail lines of the east coast probably somewhere in the nineties. She is searching for her foster sister, whom she insists was turned into a vampire despite having gone to her funeral. Yes, she’s That Character. And it’s about to get worse, because protagonist is an empathic vampire. This means that everything around her retains emotional imprints of the people who have been there before.
In theory, this would make the book like a trip down the rabbit hole from hell. And for the first few pages, that’s exactly what it is. You find yourself enjoying it. This girl is clearly nuts and so are all her friends, but they’re nuts in a way you can follow. At least, you can for a little while.
When writing a book that is highly experimental, or even just dreamy, the writer’s key is to have an anchor- someone or something that you can follow through the story in order to not get lost. Of course where you go depends entirely on the anchor, but a good one will always get you where you need to go. An example of an anchor would be The Paranoids in Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49. The band appears and plays its gig like everything is normal, even when it’s clearly not. They enforce reality on a nonrealistic situation, even though they themselves are fantastic. They’re there.
The anchor in The Orange Eats Creeps jumps ship so many times it’s pointless giving her a life jacket. The protagonist you are depending on wanders away from you and you can’t follow her. She leaves behind long and sometimes infuriatingly interlocked descriptions of things that are showing her their imprints, of impressions of companions, random pieces of philosophy. Imagine a crowded Walmart. You are supposed to be following your mother. Only, without warning, your mother disappears into the crowd, leaving you alone with a half-written shopping list. And she doesn’t reappear again until you’ve gone to get an extra cart and have already picked up everything she has.
If this were a slightly less biased review it could be noted that I didn’t finish the book. What do I know? Maybe it resolves itself in a manner that forgives all its evident flaws. Well, true to my impulses, I read the last page.
Which consists of the protagonist accidentally leaving her maybe dead sister behind when she gets on a greyhound and forgets her.
..I’m sorry what? What kind of satisfactory ending is that? I’m all for the tragedy but really? You hauled me through river and dale and left me without a map so that the quest item is forgotten on the ground at a bus stop? Lame. Lamer than lame.
Orange Eats Creeps could have done some amazing stuff. Its ambiguity towards the maybe existence of vampires, the empathic discord of the protagonist, the quest for the sister, all of this could have come together in one harmonious first novel. Instead, it’s just a mess. There are people who disagree. Fuck those people.