All good books are praiseworthy, but each bad book is bad in its own special way.
Some falter through sheer ineptitude, a lack of talent that shines forth on every
page.  Others are written by those with genuine skills, but who earn our obloquy
by p
ouring out hackwork, or sacrificing honesty to advance ideology, or writing
novelizations of doltish hit movies. There are still others on my list: scheming
plagiarists, academics who pepper their ‘texts’ with obscure continental jargon,
or churn out boring tomes in hopes of securing tenure at a respectable Midwestern
college, or biographers who wait until their subject is dead so libel laws are no longer
enforceable, or journalists who rush books to market on tawdry celebrity scandals,
or….   

Well, it’s a long list.  But the worst offender of all, in my
rankings of authorial transgressions, is the pretentious
novelist. Ah the horror of these grotesque narratives,
pages on life support dangling wounded metaphors, a
veritable battlefield hospital of sentences, each trying
desperately to hold on to the last vestiges of their ebbing
meaning.  And they’ve only got their author to blame
who, forced to choose, decided it is better to impress,
than delight.

The Orange Eats Creeps is just such a book.  Indeed,
it is an extreme example.  In her desire to impress,
Grace Krilanovich has tossed so much overboard—
plot, character development, even coherence.
Sentences not only falter, but go to war with themselves, like some kind of autoimmune
reaction in which an organism devours itself.

Let’s take this typical passage from p. 140:

"Bleating horrid calls to the street…passing by towns slowly, descending toward the
hot, humid afternoon-hell in that secret place, searching out some semblance of
normalcy out of the shallow night, your fractured thoughts occupied by that fateful
hour of afternoon. Possessed calls piercing the night, you’re caught in its thrall,
head pounding looking for answers. It’s all wrong, you’re all wrong."

This passage comes near the conclusion of the book, yet the reader is still unable,
at this point, to identify who is experiencing this scene, or whom the second person
'you'—mentioned three times here—indicates. The most likely candidate is the female
narrator, who usually appears in the first person in these pages, but not always.  But,
in the context of the passage, 'you' might also be the protagonist's sister or 'mother'.
Then again, three paragraphs later, a name finally appears ("Oh Seth! What am I doing
here without you?")—and the reader must now accept the possibility that the ‘you’ a
page earlier was the 'boyfriend' Seth. Yet even if we solve this insoluble mystery, we still
don’t know if the impressionistic passages ("Bleating horrid calls to the street…") are
happening to this 'you' or are being described to this 'you'. This is not an isolated
example, but happens again and again in the text.

But let’s look again at the cited passage, and ask
some basic questions. For example, when is this
incident of the “bleating, horrid calls” taking place?  
Well, that seems simple to answer—the author
refers to “hot, humid afternoon-hell.”  But, wait,
she also refers to “the shallow night.”  Then she
returns to describing the “fateful hour of afternoon.”  
But then she mentions “calls piercing the night.  
Give up, my friend, you will never figure out the
chronology of any paragraph in this novel, let alone
the timeline for the ‘story’ (I use that term loosely) as
a whole.  And space is just as confusing as time in this novel. Can you visualize this
scene?  No, you can’t.  But it’s certainly not for an absence of adjectives and descriptive
passages.  The reader faces an avalanche of them; the only problem is that the
descriptive passages here fail to describe anything.

I suppose I ought to address the ‘plot’ at this point. But this is even more difficult to
unlock than the vague, rambling paragraphs that fill this volume.  The narrator, a
runaway teen, is a vampire, and has met some other young bloodsuckers. “We’re
blood-hungry teenagers; our rage knows no bounds and coagulates the pulse of our
victims on contact.” But even this bit of backstory may or may not be true. Even
Steve Erikson, who gushes over the book in an intro that reads like a paid infomercial,
admits: "I’ve never been sure if the young 'vampires' who roam the northwest
netherland in
The Orange Eats Creeps are really vampires." In other words, the
very foundation of the plot is crumbling.

There are a few other plot elements worth mentioning.  The narrator is searching
for her sister Kim, and hangs out with vampire boys.  They spend a lot of time in
convenience stores and parking lots.  Eventually an evil warlock shows up, but to
what purpose, who can guess? But even these flimsy threads of story soon
disappear.  Except for a few pages at the beginning, and a few others at the end
of the book, most of this novel operates without plot, complication, development
or resolution.  

Perhaps it aspires to the status of poetry. But even poetry has some meager
obligations to refer to…well, to refer to
something, no?  When Krilanovich says
of a character that he "screams and barfs at the same time," I wonder at the
physiological impossibility of this maneuver. When she describes a "sky that
burned orange as an intestine," I wonder where she did her internship in
gastroenterology. When she refers to the "mushroomy aroma of murder," I rise
up in protest at the injustice to morels, who have never harmed a soul, unless the
ill-informed victim picked up a toadstool by mistake. So let’s blame toadstools,
not mushrooms. Yet let’s be honest: the main goal of such passages—and of the
book as a whole—is to impress us with the author’s
edginess.

And, certainly Krilanovich is edgy.  But edges can only exist in relation to a center,
and this text has a big hole where that center ought to be.  This creates many
problems, not the least of which is the difficulty for the reader to care about characters
who not only care so little about themselves, but possess so little identity that, during
much of the book, we have no idea of who is doing what to whom.  For a novel that
wants so much to shock and disgust, this is a major liability.  You can’t be shocked,
if you don’t care, and Krilanovich never gives us a reason to do so.

I didn't learn until I finished this painful read that Grace Krilanovich constructed the
plot (such as it is) by picking cards at random from a homemade pack. I can only guess
what was on these cards or how they impacted the story (such as it is). But I feel
confident in concluding that Krilanovich wasn't playing with a full deck.


Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz
from Basic Books.


Publication Date: June 13, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
annus
horribilis
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
Dracula
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
Carrie
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
Tales
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
Nausea
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
Rebecca
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Bad Things Happen in
The Orange Eats Creeps

...good luck figuring out what they are
Give up, my friend,
you will never figure
out the chronology of
any paragraph in this
novel, let alone the
timeline for the story.
To purchase, click on image
Essay by Ted Gioia
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at
www.twitter.com/tedgioia

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.
Flatland

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian
Hothouse

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

Apuleius
The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.
Crash

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis
Ficciones

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.
Moderan

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.
Babel-17

Delany, Samuel R.
Dhalgren

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.
Nova

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.
Ubik

Dick, Philip K.
VALIS

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos
Aura

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil
Neverwhere

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William
Neuromancer

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John
Light

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank
Dune

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel
Submission

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen
Carrie

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw
Solaris

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.
Tales

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni
Beloved

Murakami, Haruki
1Q84

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry
Ringworld

Noon, Jeff
Vurt

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik
Gateway

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José
Blindness

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert
Mindswap

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert
Nightwings

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford
City

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer
Norstrilia

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stoker, Bram
Dracula

Stross, Charles
Glasshouse

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.
Slan

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack
Emphyrio

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt
Slaughterhouse-Five

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim
Cloudstreet

Woolf, Virginia
Orlando

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal


Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List



Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

_____


SF Site
io9
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog


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