By A.S. King
Available now from Little, Brown (Hachette)
Read my A.S. King tag
From her first novel, THE DUST OF 100 DOGS, A.S. King has been interested in realistic issues but tackled them with fantastic flourishes. With each of her novels, her popularity and critical acclaim have risen. I love that she's taken the opportunity not to do the same thing repeatedly, but to push her work further and further into the edges. I CRAWL THROUGH IT leaps into full surrealism.
The majority of the book is told through the point of view of Stanzi. (Her name isn't Stanzi.) She is split into two and finds refuge in her love of biology, always wearing a lab coat and compulsively dissecting frogs. Some is told by China, who swallowed herself. Some is told by Lansdowne Cruise, whose hair grows when she lies. (She has very long hair.) Some is told by Patricia, who is trapped in a place with no departures. Their friend Gustav tells none of it, but he is central to the story - as is the helicopter he is building, which Stanzi can only see on Tuesdays.
It's a convoluted story, and on top of the surrealism, all of the narrators are unreliable. Some truths are easy to find. We all know what Irenic Brown did to China. The details can be harder to determine, and much is left to the reader's interpretation. King has a lot to say. She sometimes hammers her point in, but she's often subtle. (I do love the touch that despite there being prominent male characters, there are no male narrators. This is a book where women's voices have primacy.)
Much is made in the blurb of I CRAWL THROUGH IT, as well as the design of the book itself, about the testing angle. Yes, there is satire of the modern school curriculum culture. In many ways I wouldn't pick that out as the central issue of the novel. I think it has far more to say about how girls' voices are devalued, but maybe that's just me.
I CRAWL THROUGH IT is King's least accessible novel. I think it accomplishes what King said out to do with it, and that her fans will have a lot of fun tangling through it. It is definitely not my favorite King novel. Like GLORY O'BRIEN'S HISTORY OF THE FUTURE, sometimes the polemics take over the story. However, it is a rich read and a bold artistic statement.