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Teenage Punk-Rock Vampire Novel & Prose Poetry on Plays

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Issue: 73 Section: Literature & Ideas Topics: poetry, fiction

December 3, 2010

Teenage Punk-Rock Vampire Novel & Prose Poetry on Plays

New works by Krilanovich, Ball

by Shane Patrick Murphy, Robert Kotyk

The Orange Eats Creeps
Grace Krilanovich
Two Dollar Radio, 2010.

The minute you tell someone you’re reading a novel about teenage vampires these days, you’ve got a lot of assumptions to recover from. Tell them it’s a teenage punk-rock vampire novel full of “narcissistic gypsy-slut shitheads” and “slutty teenage hobo vampire junkies,” and then they might get an idea of what The Orange Eats Creeps reads like. This novel is like notorious punk-rocker GG Allin showing up at a Green Day concert. And that’s not to say Grace Krilanovich is simply out to shock, although she shocks in almost every paragraph she writes. The shock comes in equal doses of blood, sadness and Robitussin, as she chronicles a crew of vagrant vampire punks that kill, steal and fuck their way around the northwestern United States.

All this overlapping blood, sex and death becomes both unsettling and normal as you get fired through this short novel. The evocative prose keeps the gore constantly in focus, yet the teenage narrator emerges as a reflective traveler lost in her own thoughts, in her own flesh. Then, every few pages, she is almost irrevocably lost in someone else’s flesh: either devouring or being devoured, and finding affirmations of life somewhere below the skin. The vampire motif is a perfectly morbid metaphor.

Although it sounds like an elaborate teen-angst allegory, the endless creepy details of bodily destruction in The Orange Eats Creeps act as a warning against literary deconstruction. This is a vampire novel: an unapologetic, bloody and brutal vampire novel. But somehow it doesn’t matter if these kids are supposed to be real vampires, or if their death-obsession is a nightmarish reflection of their crumbling insides. The novel is also a well-crafted memoir of a punk scene that has never quite found a literary voice. Anyone who even vaguely encountered the punk scene rooted in Washington and Oregon in the 1990s will chuckle as Krilanovich recounts the unintentional hilarity of interwoven Krishna Punks, Rockabillies, and riot grrrls. The vampire punks are just another clan of kids heading to Oregon to find death or life or whatever they can find.

Krilanovich draws from these scenes to build characters that most other first-time novelists wouldn’t dare attempt, and she writes it all in unrestrained profane language that you wouldn’t expect from someone garnering serious mainstream praise. This nervy novel is emblematic of the work coming from the excellent Ohio-based publisher Two Dollar Radio. This is fiction defined by its distaste for moderation. It is also fiction that’s guaranteed to offend and alienate many readers, but I’m sure Krilanovich would be happy to lose those readers to an entirely different kind of popular vampire novel.

—Shane Patrick Murphy

Jonathan Ball
Coach House, 2010

The actors reveal, for a small audience, the significant world events of the next fifty years. The audience listens, absorbs everything. When the play ends, all return home, silent. Now it is the audience's turn to act.

An exercise in formal cross-pollination, Jonathan Ball’s excellent new book of prose poetry describes a series of plays, theatrical experiences, and surreal art happenings that never (and in many cases, could never) occur in reality.

Written in weighty but never overly serious free verse, the book often induces a feeling of darkness and horror (“The play hollows them. What they once were bleeds out.”), and reads with a pleasingly antiquated tone, like a collection of literary feuilletons by Robert Walser or Peter Altenberg. The pieces are organized one per page, and the quickly shifting focal point of each poem—the audience itself, the strange happenings on stage, the effect produced afterward—is as stimulating as it is unsettling. If art is the result of the imagination’s confrontation with a series of material restrictions, what happens when those restrictions are lifted?

The actors improvise a scene. Then they improvise another. Until nothing is left to improvise. All possibilities are exhausted, put to bed.

Like the film Synecdoche, New York, in which a theatre project grows so large that its rehearsal period threatens to exceed the lifespan of its author, the poems in Clockfire find meaning in the gap between the practical realities of stagecraft and the infinite scope of what can be dreamed up on the page. Ball’s voice—peculiar, dark, and cultivated—is a welcome one.

—Robert Kotyk

Robert Kotyk reads and writes in Montreal. Shane Patrick Murphy co-edits The Dominion's Literature & Ideas section.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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