May 2008

Beth Harrington

fiction

Girl Factory by Jim Krusoe

“As a hero in everyday life I am a public menace,” reads the epigraph to Jim Krusoe’s novel Girl Factory, quoting Peter Handke’s My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay. Upon finishing the book, I was inclined to believe that a better characterization of Jonathan, its thirty-nothing, consistently single protagonist could not be found. A recluse by nature, Jonathan spends his life pondering the extraordinary while mired in the ordinary. He lives in a one-bedroom apartment and works at a yogurt shop -- Mister Twisty’s, to be precise. A newspaper story about Buck, a canine scientifically engineered for military purposes to possess a superior intellect, only to be sentenced to death after intimidating the humans in his midst, impels Jonathan to make his mark as a hero by plotting to set Buck free. In a convoluted sense he succeeds, but only because he releases a different dog, one of such a cruel and violent temperament as to render the actual Buck seem harmless by comparison, thus causing him to be granted clemency.
           
This plotline is rather abruptly abandoned as the novel shifts to focus on the strange occurrences in the basement of Mister Twisty’s yogurt shop. It seems Jonathan’s boss, Spinner -- best summed up by his sagacious reproach, “the yogurt business is not for sissies, Jonathan, but if you treat it well it will you well in turn” -- has stumbled upon what may be the key to the preservation of all life forms. Right now, all he is preserving is six extremely attractive female bodies which Jonathan makes it his aim to revive after some foul play removes his boss from the picture.

Girl Factory was my first foray into the wildly weird world of Jim Krusoe’s imagination, and I am still not sure what I think of it. The world or the novel, that is. Krusoe clearly has an eye for the commonplace absurdities of modern-day, American life. His descriptions of strip malls, a support group called Spouses Without Spouses for Spinner’s grief-stricken widow, and perhaps most amusing of all, the plan of a public relations firm to revive a zoo’s business by turning it into a hot spot for hip adults replete with a cocktail bar and evening piano player, will have jaded suburbanites (and those who are sick of them) rolling their eyes.

However, at times these observations become obsessive and excessive, rendered with too much deliberation on the part of the author to flow seamlessly in with the story. The minute cleverness of such details also occurs at some expense to the bigger picture. Ultimately, I am not sure if this book was missing something or whether I missed something in this book. Plotlines appear or are hinted at only to be snatched away without satisfactory explanation. Aside from the aforementioned story of Buck, who does not return to relevance until the last moment of the story, I am still not sure who killed Spinner; then again, maybe I am not supposed to be. Was it just me or was Jonathan attracted to Spinner’s wife? Jonathan’s hypothesis, based on a visit to another yogurt shop, that maybe the basements of all yogurt shops are the sites of such experiments as the one at Mr. Twisty’s, is dangled before the reader and then abandoned without further examination.

Then, there is the matter of the ending itself, which felt too rushed, and did not reveal enough to be truly satisfactory. In essence, it is not that the ending isn’t clever, it’s just that it isn’t the cleverest ending that there could have been, and after a book that relies so heavily on the basis of its own quirkiness, that is kind of a letdown. On the other hand, I am once again drawn to Handke’s epigraph, which may provide the key to understanding this book. Perhaps nothing works out for Jonathan because in the world outside of novels life doesn’t necessarily function that way. Maybe planet Earth loses plenty of true heroes simply because they devote themselves to the wrong cause. If you are looking for a book that is outside of the mainstream, Girl Factory is worth a try. It might not wind up being everything you hoped for, but it will likely deliver some laughs and may leave you pondering the fate of this sadly misinterpreted hero.

Girl Factory by Jim Krusoe
Tin House Books
ISBN: 0979419824
196 Pages