Cruddy: A Novel
On a September night in 1971, a few days after getting busted for dropping two of the 127 hits of acid found in a friend's shoe, a sixteen-year-old who is grounded for a year curls up in the corner of her ratty bedroom, picks up a pen, and begins to write.
Once upon a cruddy time on a cruddy street on the side of a cruddy hill in the cruddiest part of a crudded-out town in a cruddy state, country, world, solar system, universe. The cruddy girl named Roberta was writing the cruddy book of her cruddy life and the name of the book was called Cruddy.
Now the truth can finally be revealed about the mysterious day long ago when the authorities found a child, calmly walking in the boiling desert, covered with blood. She could not give the authorities any information about why she was the only survivor and everyone else was lying around in hacked-up pieces.
Roberta Rohbeson, 1971. Her overblown, drug-induced teenage rant against a world bounded by "the cruddy top bedroom of a cruddy rental house on a very cruddy mud road behind cruddy Black Cat Lumber" soon becomes a detailed account of another story. It is a story about which Roberta has kept silent for five years, until, under the influence of a pale hippie called the Turtle and a drug called Creeper, her tale giddily unspools...
Roberta Rohbeson, 1967. The world of Roberta, age eleven, is terrifyingly unbounded, a one-way cross-country road trip fueled by revenge and by greed, a violent, hallucinatory, sometimes funny, more often horrific year of killings, betrayals, arson, and a sinister set of butcher knives, each with its own name.
Welcome to Cruddy, Lynda Barry's masterful tale of the two intertwined narratives set five years -- an eternity -- apart, which form the backbone of Roberta's life. Cruddy is a wild ride indeed, a fairy tale-cum-low-budget horror movie populated by a cast of characters that will remain vivid in the reader's mind long after the final page: Roberta's father, a dangerous alcoholic and out-of-work meat cutter in search of his swindled inheritance; the frightening owners of the Knocking Hammer Bar and sometime slaughterhouse; and two charming but quite mad escapees from the Barbara V. Herrmann Home for Adolescent Rest. Written with a teenager's eye for freakish detail and a nervous ability to make the most horrible scenes seem hilarious, Roberta's two stories -- part Easy Rider and part bipolar Wizard of Oz -- painfully but inevitably converge in a surprising denouement in a nightmarish Dreamland in the Nevada desert.
By turns terrifying, darkly funny, and resonant with humanity, propelled by all the narrative power of a superior thriller and burnished by the author's pitch-perfect ear for dialogue, Cruddy is a stunning achievement.
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Now to say Cruddy is a regular book is to say New York is a regular city. All cities have their highs and their lows, their culture, their kitsch; and their homeless sidewalk defecating loonies. CRUDDY has its love, its loss. CRUDDY has shocking truth and shocking humor. I first read the book on vacation, and between sitting in the air terminal and the 4 hour flight the folks around me must've thought i was a nut, holding back guffaws until i was in tears. Not Bill Cosby light hearted humor, but dark, biting unfortunately believable humor of a poor family of characters in a sad saga of growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. Even the wrong side of the wrong side, the side where the slaughterhouse and the fertilizer plant is. Where the tracks end and the rollercoaser begins. It's a horrifying ride that makes you glad you grew up in some kind of normal. A normal Roberta will never know.
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