Or, I suppose more accurately, I was had at “four hour bus ride to New York City what should I read to pass the time ooh this looks interesting and I bet I can devour it in one sitting.” And that’s how I came to read The Orange Eats Creeps, the debut novel by Grave Krilanovich, which is less Twilight and more Requiem for a Dream; less sparkly vampires, more meth addiction.
If I had to give some kind of plot synopsis of this book, I’d probably say something like it’s the fever dream of a mentally troubled teenage runaway in the Pacific Northwest in the 90s. She leaves her foster home — possibly in pursuit of her missing foster sister with whom she shared her first lesbian sexual encounter — and finds herself adrift in sex, drugs, and rock and roll, only not in the cool or glorified way. This book is dark, violent, grungy and uncomfortable. There’s no romanticized teen runaways here, no idealistic rock-n-rollers. Just trading sex for money in gas station parking lots and meth and more meth and also meth. Variations on the aforementioned phrase “slutty teenage vampire hobo junkies” are repeated throughout the book (along with many other things — there’s lots of repetition, but I’ll get to that), and while the nameless narrator might actually be a vampire with ESP, it’s never made explicitly clear. It could all be a metaphor for self-destructive youth feeding on one another, which it definitely is on a macro level. But on a literal story-level, it’s never quite clear if there’s anything supernatural or otherworldly going on, or if everyone’s just really messed up on drugs.
I suspect it’s the latter.
I personally enjoyed the hell out of this book, though I realize that it’s probably not for everyone. It eschews any kind of traditional narrative, and instead loses the reader in the narrator’s maddening psyche. The prose is rich and luscious although it’s often difficult to figure out exactly what’s going on and where you are at any given point in time. This is definitely an intentional effect, as it mimics the experience of the nameless narrator who is similarly adrift in a drug-induced haze. It reads more like a stream-of-consciousness prose poem than anything else.
This might be frustrating to some readers, but if you’re looking for a challenge and you’re someone (like me) who enjoys experimental fiction, I can’t recommend this enough. For my part, it definitely helped that I read (almost) the entire book in one sitting. There were times when I felt so hypnotized by the language, getting lost in its rhythms and repetitions. Every now and then I’d have to shake myself out of the trance because I was so lost in the words and the story that I wasn’t consciously paying attention to the story. Again, I’m pretty sure that was the point, and if so, it absolutely worked (partially because the actual narrative is so obscured that it would difficult to consciously follow it anyway, so you may as well just go along for the ride). Fortunately, the book is only about 150 pages — if this spiraling nightmare gone on any longer, I may have actually gone insane while reading it.
As I mentioned, I read most of the book on a four hour bus ride to New York City, and spreading those last 35 pages over the course of the day in New York was difficult. I would be reading on the subway and finally sucked back into one of those hypnotic trances, then have to put the book away to go do something else (like get off the train so I didn’t end up on Coney Island). Breaking up the momentum definitely detracted from the reading experience, as every time I picked it up again, I would initially feel lost until I remembered that I’d been lost the entire time and I just had to go with hit.
If you’re into supernatural or horror stories, or horrifying young adult stories, and you find yourself with four hours or so to kill, I would absolutely recommend reading The Orange Eats Creeps in a single sitting. It’s a reading experience unlike any other, and even if it gets too trippy for your usual tastes (which it might), just push through and finish it and let the slutty teenage vampire hobo junkies sink their fangs into your neck and leave their neck. I don’t think you’ll regret it.