Print Reviews
by Katherine Dunn
Warner Books (1971)
7 / 10
Katherine Dunn, author of the gorgeous and bizarre Geek Love, may seem a one-off wonder to the reading public. Check most bookstores and you'll find a copy or two, if you're lucky, of Geek Love, and on to the next author. However, over a decade before she exploded with her lurid and lovely tale of the Binewski family of carefully-created sideshow freaks (amphetamine and arsenic work magic, if you wanna birth Siamese twins), she published the autobiographical Attic, detailing her youthful degradation in a Kansas prison for cashing a bad check, and the semi-autobiographical Truck, which follows proto-gender queer runaway Dutch Gillis and her untouchable and mysteriously criminal lust interest Heydorf.

Truck is unevenly written, but absorbing nonetheless, falling somewhere between S.E. Hinton and Kathy Acker in the shady annals of teen runaway tales. Like Hinton's Ponyboy, Dutch Gillis is working class and a little too smart for her own good. She calls out society's shit as she sees it, but is powerless to do anything about it—and she knows it. She wants desperately to escape her fate, which she fears is marriage to a blockhead gas station attendant who works for her father, and kids and kids and more kids till she murders them all in a last ditch effort to find freedom. A total outcast, known delinquent, fond of wearing men's clothing and keeping her hair nearly shorn; Dutch doesn't even fit in with her posse of blue-collar bad rep boys. She's fifteen, looks ten, hasn't even started her period, but sex is on her mind quiet frequently and she spends much time commenting on the 'slime' that leaks between her thighs. In fact, a good portion of the book, which is narrated stream-of-unconsciousness style, is concerned with bodily fluids and other topics young women in literature rarely dish on, unless it's cute like the menstrual anxieties of Judy Blume's sanitized, sensitive heroines.

In Blume's world, Dutch would be an oozing, out-of-control, crude boogeygirl; scamming her classmates, lying to her parents, stealing ceaselessly to quell her voracious appetite for chocolate. The Blume girls would run screaming back to their well-manicured lawns at the mere sight of her trudging along the railroad tracks. Dutch doesn't give a fuck, well, she kind of does. While wild and loving it, she does care for her family, particularly her rape-obsessed mom (a fear that informs Dutch to some extent), and her only regrets are the pain she's causing them by 'trucking' from Portland to L.A. But, even these doubts are squashed by her fear of compulsory future femininity, and an explosive nuclear family all her own.

Dutch makes big plans to run away with Heydorf, her pimply, speculatively violent, psuedo-philosopher hero. She arrives via bus, to an L.A. depot, where she waits for Heydorf to rescue her from her racist paranoia concerning Latinos, who she thinks are out to rape, or at least con her. The way race is dealt with in these scenes is painful and insightful for analyzing the workings of racism in our own times. The book was published in 1971, and Dutch seems to get the message that hating on blacks is wrong, after all, the Civil Rights movement was in full-swing by then. She even mentions never having felt any differently about black people than whites. She develops steamy crushes on the black shoeshine boys, which she chalks up to admiration (she wants to be a shoeshine boy herself) but are thick with lust, as her lingering descriptions of their physique and handsome faces show. Quite a contrast to the fragile, pasty Heydorf, whom she also lusts for, though she often compares him to a frog. However, Dutch cannot get a grip on her unacknowledged hatred for Latinos. And in this respect, she is an interesting case study in the process of becoming anti-racist, as clearly she is a product of the Civil Rights era, but continues to see only in black and white, not in the various shades between.

Once in tow of Heydorf, Dutch happily settles into her role of sidekick sucker, stealing him candy and buying him whatever he wants (Heydorf never steals himself, in fact, he never seems to do anything but generalize about the stupidity of society and vaguely scheme bank robberies). Dutch isn't interested in criminal undertakings, she wants to live in the mountains as a hermit, and is thrilled when she convinces Heydorf to wild it out with her on a beach in Northern Cali. She has a recurring fantasy of being 'de king,' the mountain king: alone, naked, and not caring she has a hole instead of a cock between her legs. Some of the best passages detail these musings, as in the opening pages of the novel :

Going to go up on the mountain and be king. If I'm the only one up there, I'm the king...Never speak again...Set down here any old way and adore my knees with no help from anybody. I'm so lovely when nobody sees me. Such perfect knees. They bend. Anybody comes up the road I go crashing back into the trees, creeping after, spying out rocks and following secretly until they go.

The story has a harsh ending, with no lessons seemingly learned, and Dutch remains her wild self, though thwarted in her desperate orchestration of her own deflowering, even after a stint in juvey, precipitated by Heydorf conning her out of the rest of her money and abandoning her in the woods. Everything is left undone; sure Dutch is back with the fam, who are all forgiveness, but Dutch and the reader are left wondering if Heydorf is a rapist/murderer, and in the 'fantasy' sequence which closes the book, if Dutch was pulling the trigger herself.
Posted by: R. Baker

Print Reviews (April 13th, 2006)