In a recent interview, Grace Krilanovich revealed that she mapped out the story line of The Orange Eats Creeps, her first novel, by drawing cards at random from a homemade deck. This explains, at least in part, the chaotic energy behind this beautiful and deranged book, in which a nameless teenage vampire travels through Oregon in the early 1990s, doing drugs, searching for her missing foster sister, going to hardcore shows, and preying on men when they aren't preying on her. The narrator claims to have ESP and spends much of the novel channeling Patty Reed, the young Donner Party member who credited her survival to a wooden doll. Of course, it's also possible that she's simply in the grips of madness, hallucinating it all.
Trying to capture the experience of a character on the brink of insanity is daring and rarely successful. When it works—think William Burroughs at his best—readers must be able to encounter the narrator's skewed psychology without becoming lost amid the hallucinatory logic. The Orange Eats Creeps performs this tricky balancing act, which partly explains how Krilanovich can inhabit a ludicrous plot (hobo vampires?) without tumbling into horror kitsch. She nails the shaky worldview of a supernatural teen narco-insomniac who drifts in and out of dreams as fluidly as she drifts in and out of sexual encounters: sometimes ecstatic, sometimes in agony, often sliding between those poles within a single sentence. But even as she charges into dark psychological alleys and scrambles straightforward syntax, she keeps us grounded with familiar settings—a Safeway, say, where our narrator flips through the pages of People—and shots of laconic prose. Her nights are hazy, but by morning she's back to reality, "on the hood of a blue Honda in the rain, waking up with someone else's greasy sock balled up in [her] hand." Like Brian Evenson's The Open Curtain, this novel immerses the reader in the warped perspective of its protagonist without ever quite sacrificing sense.
Vampirism is a well-worn horror trope, but Krilanovich finds unique things to say with it. Being undead, here, is the defining paradox of the teenage female experience: to be both immortal and rapidly aging. Orange Eats Creeps is also about the succubuslike existence of homeless teens who "dry-hump reality," feeding off society's dregs, eating from garbage cans, and living in abandoned trailers. Ultimately transformative, they consume cultural detritus and clichés—drugs, horror stories, half-eaten burritos—to fuel a wild, and often terrifying, inner world.