Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Review: CARSICK, by John Waters
Oh my God, you guys. So, I have never seen a John Waters movie (I might have seen "Serial Mom," but that's it) but I'm a fan of John Waters the writer and cultural figure- the outsider, the pusher of boundaries, the purveyor of things-that-make-people-squirm-uncomfortably. I think that's a good thing in a free society and after reading his 2010 book Role Models I was definitely interested in reading his latest, a combination of memoir and fiction recounting what was basically a stunt he pulled, hitchhiking across America from his home in Baltimore to his apartment in San Francisco.
The first two parts of the book are fiction. The first, "Good Rides," recounts the best-case scenarios- hilarious, often raunchy, wish-fulfillment scenes involving resurrected film stars, generous drug dealers, retired porn stars and magical body parts. He encounters an exhibitionist bank robber and a race car driver who gets a little too involved in his racing. He meets a collector of the same kinds of pulp novels he loves, books with titles like Chain Gang Chicken and Womb Raiders. He takes a ride from a singer he loves, and joins her in a rendition of his favorite songs. His hair grows back. He makes a new best friend. It's awesome.
Part two is "Bad Rides," or "the worst that could happen." In this section things get ugly very quickly after a bad ride with an obsessive fan who only speaks in quotations from Waters' own movies. He gets a scary tattoo, he gets sick from tofu served by a vegan extremist and sleeps in a dog house owned by an animal lover who hates people. And he meets a man with a very bad opinion indeed of cult film directors. The "Bad Rides" section was truly awful in places; I listened to the audio version of the book so I listened to everything, but I would have skimmed if I had been reading paper. And it's here, I think, that Waters' sense of humor and sense of the gross and grotesque really come out to play.
Finally the rubber hits the road in the "Real Rides" section, which documents Waters' actual trip. This section was the most fun because it was the truth. And the truth is, when you're John Waters, hitchhiking is mostly boring, and tedious, and mined with privations, and you miss your Evian water, and your La Mer skin cream, and marvel at the lack of room service at Days' Inn hotels. But you get picked up more than the average person and generally have a good time meeting folks from different walks of life and parts of the country. And Waters did make a real new friend, a young Republican city councilman, as well as a host of other traveling companions.
I enjoyed the whole book, even the real cringe-worthy chapters of the "Bad Rides" section, with one exception. I'm glad I did the audio because Waters' narration is so worth the price of admission. He is hilarious but also sweet and adorable and just plain fun, even when he's complaining about the lack of amenities at cheap hotels and the difficulty obtaining his La Mer skin cream. I like his books because he just seems like a fun person with whom to spend time, and if you have a warped sense of humor and don't mind a fair serving of raunch, please don't miss Carsick. It's a great ride.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.