Words and phrases from Jodi’s review of the novel Cruddy by Lynda Barry that made it absolutely mandatory that I read it stat: “Slaughterhouse;” “… bodies left in their wake;” “Horrifying;” “Not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach;”
And the ultimate deal sealer: “There were paragraphs I had to skip over because the descriptions of slaughter and dead bodies were too graphic for me. In fact, my stomach jumps a little and I shiver just thinking about them. Blech.”
“Sold!” I wrote in the comments. Because if there is one thing I like in a novel, it is a clever spin on yuck. When I can read or watch something that makes my knees deflate, my stomach bounce, and my dry heaver heave, I become absolutely giddy. Let us not forget the delicious scene in Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, when our hero extracts a piece of his own leg bone to create a sharp piece of weaponry. Gag (in a good way). Or in the Ryu Murakami novel Audition when the psychopath fiance goes see-saw kitchen tool all over an Achilles tendon. Curdled (still in a good way). Well done gross is my literary weakness.
Kudos to Barry for writing a book I could actually smell. This illustrated novel reeks of cigarettes, booze, blood, bodies, garbage, piss, and breath. It smells like oily hair, cheap hotel rooms, and mounds of animal excrement. There is a severed penis.
This story is written as Roberta Rohbeson’s suicide letter, and tells the story of the time she traveled around the country with her old man in search of suitcases filled with money that he believed rightfully belonged to him. It’s less of a “how I spent my summer vacation” essay and more of a graphic “how I learned to use a knife I named Little Debbie” essay. And if this wasn’t confusing enough for the young Roberta, her father made her go by the name Clyde, a mute and wickedly bruised son. In present time, around the?time the gruesome suicide note is being written, Roberta has been grounded for bad behavior with the neighborhood misfits. This isn’t any more wholesome than the death spree, as they rut, get whacked out on unknown substances, and otherwise run ragged.
This book is sick, with surprising moments of funny. It’s confusing, heavy, and sad. And it is more than a gore fest for this gore-hungry gal. It’s a gripping and unique story and the writing is a complete sensory overload (still in a good way). It is also a lot terrifying, in that way that Roberta (both as Roberta and as Clyde) is stuck in an unstable lose-lose situation where her mother might bean her with a telephone, until her nose bends like a boxer’s nose; Her father might knife her in the gut. It makes her escape, her happy place, seem pretty comfortable: Getting cozy with train tracks.