The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich
Two Dollar Radio, 216 p.
The publisher’s description of The Orange Eats Creeps made a reference to “hobo vampire junkies….praying to the altar of Poison Idea and GG Allin at basement rock shows.” Right about there, my interest was piqued. Preconceived notions can be a tricky thing. I’ll confess that I was expecting something similar in tone to Kathryn Bigelow’s film Near Dark — a deconstruction of the vampire mythos still capable of evoking terror. But that’s not really what The Orange Eats Creeps is about. (Lest the Pacific Northwest setting lead you astray, Steve Erickson is pretty clear in his introduction: “Twilight this isn’t.”) Punk rock is played and blood is consumed, but the horrors here are far more internal in nature, and the sometimes pastoral landscapes this novel’s narrator wanders provide no respite.
It’s possible that Krilanovich’s gangs of pill-popping, train-jumping, Pacific Northwestern vampires are vampiric in metaphor only. It’s never clear, but that lack of clarity is the point — somewhere partway through the novel, its nameless narrator left to her own devices, it becomes apparent that the shape of her head is far more important than whether or not some straight-edge Van Helsing will eventually show up, stake in hand. From a fractured opening, a rhythm initially sets in: the narrator’s life as part of a group of rootless vampires, robbing convenience stores and — in sequences that suggest an issue of Cometbus gone frenetically off the rails — tearing through punk houses. Details emerge of the narrator’s life before this: time in a foster home, a separation from her sister. And as these details accumulate, jarring notes emerge — differing explanations for her (possibly) vampiric state, for example. And once enough of these notes are heard, it’s hard to shake the feeling that what has come before is not, perhaps, the most literal recounting of events. Especially as the narrator’s consciousness fluctuates — through drugs, psychic abilities, or some combination of the two.
Krilanovich is borrowing elements here from pulp horror, but it’s key that an unseen killer is far more sinister than either the gang of vampires or an ominous street that resurfaces throughout the book. Her novel shares a disorienting quality with the final section of Brian Evenson’s The Open Curtain, in which time, character, and action collapse in on themselves. That actions are horrific isn’t the only thing at work here — there’s also the way in which actions begin to blur and lose cohesion, which is in its own way even more horrific. And in the end, the most resonant pit-of-your-stomach dread doesn’t come from a roadside killer or fangs poised above a neck. Instead, it’s a much simpler scene, something rooted in mundane indifference that brings this novel to its unexpectedly domestic and achingly painful conclusion.