12/14/2008

REVIEW: Bad Habits by Cristy Road

Here's the review I did of Cristy Road's new novel, Bad Habits, for Maximum Rocknroll (issue #308, January 2009).

[UNEDITED]


BAD HABITS

By Cristy Road

224 pages - $14.95

Softskull Press







Cristy Road is infamous for her gender queer, sex positive drawings and her rowdy narratives about the dingy underground. Bad Habits is no exception. This is her second novel, following 2006's Indestructible, with about twice the content – closing in on nearly 200 pages of heavy analogies and gritty illustrations.


Through the protagonist Carmencita, a Cuban-American Miami transplant living in New York, Road weaves a story about surviving in an ever-changing city. Often using the cityscape as a metaphor, she explores the connections between race, class, gender, and madness. Cristy Road's unique voice creates vibrant scenery and equally vibrant characters. Her fluorescent descriptions of the simultaneously tattered, decaying, yet magical atmosphere of New York City evoke likeness to the otherworldly narratives of Francesca Lia Block.


Bad Habits is a circus of our favorite freaks: the punks, the drag queens, the queers, the assholes, the drunks, and the junkies. It's about trauma and depression, vulnerability and isolation. Road explores the bipolar nature of a dilapidated city and a decaying Coney Island. Actually, bipolar nature seems to be a theme - between Carmencita's drug-ridden ups and downs, self-assurance and self-doubt, decay vs. gentrification - the concrete world of New York City easily becomes a mirror for the contradictions of the human heart. Particularly exciting is Cristy Road's dip into magical realism, acknowledging drug-induced trips and Carmencita's own internalized psyche as valid, actual, experience. Carmencita says, "You have to accept any chemically altered state of mind as a legitimate human feeling." Carmencita's troubled existence emphasizes the simultaneous necessity of community support, family and friend-style, as well as the shortcomings of said communities. Through brutal vulgarity and brutal honesty, Carmencita will not let us forget that in order to love each other, we must love ourselves first.


It is nearly impossible not to identify with one of the characters in Bad Habits, as each of them struggles with the pangs of every day existence on the fringes. What is the connection between capitalism and madness? How do we navigate the schizophrenic lifestyle of working to live, and creating a world that we can feel safe in? What happens when our desires are cast aside? The carnage is palpable in Bad Habits, as we enter a world where the answer to these questions often results in self-medication, self-destruction, and addiction.


Cristy Road's salty language and unabashed enthusiasm to talk about booze, sex, and drugs often leads to immediate comparison with male authors. Road's work may involve a lot of traditionally male subject matter, however, her voice has a lot more to do with weaving reality and fantasy together, creating a fresh, contemporary take on magic realist tradition. Bad Habits is a large step in defining the author's narrative voice, and left me waiting for the next big thing from Cristy Road.




-- Kate Wadkins