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July 3, 2001

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On the long road of summer, the library is a gas station where you fill the tank, buy some candy bars, and stir cream and sugar into your burnt coffee before snapping on the lid, refreshed for the trip ahead. (Metaphorically speaking, of course. In actuality, it is books, not gasoline, caffeine, and junk food which you find at the library. -ed.)

Sarah and I were sitting in the reading room of the Fremont branch, perusing the casual assormtent we'd half-randomly pulled from the shelves--Basho, Issa, Silverstein, Bukowski, Clowes and Crumb (yes, comics in the library--dog bless Seattle!), silkscreening techniques, Thurber, Giovanni... when by chance I looked up and saw the black spine with puke yellow lettering, ALL CAPS that looked as if they'd been dipped in blood:  C R U D D Y .

I'd been reading The! Greatest! Of! Marlys! and caught an interview with its creator in an old Comics Journal Anne had brought home as part of her research for the double-sized anniversay issue she was preparing, so I knew Lynda Barry wrote novels, too. The first was The Good Times Are Killing Me.  C R U D D Y is number two.

"It turns out that once your mind gets expanded it is very hard to shrink it back down again."

Sarah read it first. She said it beat Bukowski. Hard to believe. But now that I'm halfway through it, I have to agree. I've been really down on fiction lately, favoring straight history and Buk's thinly veiled memoirs, but now I'm hooked on  C R U D D Y .

What can I tell you about it? Why should I tell you anything? It is the 300-page suicide note of a teenage girl who has seen and done things. It is the story Dolores Hayes, the title character of Lolita, might have told had she been given a voice of her own and Nabokov had had the guts, ear, and experience to faithfully render the American idiom.

I don't know, maybe I should just fabricate some dust jacket blurbs, because the ones on this edition (even the one from Barry's longtime friend and Simpsons creator Matt Groening) don't give an inkling as to what one can expect to find inside:

"The father's casual cruelties are understandable, perhaps even necessary, being as they are the natural extensions of his two-fold conditioning--meat and the military."~The Bleeding Heart

"Road movie meets driver's ed scare film in a funny story of drugs, death, and destruction."~Blood Hype

"A coming of age tale for the A-bomb generation. Should replace Catcher in the Rye as required reading in every American high school."~The Brave Librarian

"I hate this book! It portrays Americans as greedy, demented, rapacious, and immoral. You and I know this is not true. I don't belive in censorship, but this book deserves to be burned."
~George W. Bush
Well, you know, whatever. Something like that. When I commented to Anne about the irrelevance of the blurbs, she suggested that it's because no one wants to associate Lynda Barry, creator of the cuddly (though often quietly disturbing) Ernie Pook's Comeek, with Evil. I asked, "Does expressing those ideas make one a conduit for Evil?" Anne said yes.

Do you suppose that's true? And am I, now, by extension, Evil for recommending  C R U D D Y to you?