PLOT- It's tough being a clown. It's especially tough when you're living on the wrong side of the tracks in a dump of a place called Baloneytown, and no one seems to understand that you're more than a clown for birthday parties or erotic fetishes, you're an artist. Sniffles, aka Nita, is a young woman on her own, without any relatives, who has put her trust in the wrong person. She has given her boyfriend, Rex, all of her money, so that he may pursue his dream of going to clown college. As she awaits Rex's return, she rents a room in a house owned by a drug dealer, a man whom she used to sleep with, and his sadistic girlfriend, who has it out for Nita. Nita has recently miscarried Rex's baby and she can't get in touch with him to let him know, but this is only the first in a series of losses that will put her over the edge. In a short span of time, Nita has lost her baby, her dog, and her rubber chicken. How much can a clown take before she is pushed too far?
LIKE- Clown Girl is a very bizarre story. Drake's dark sense of humor and imagination is off-the- charts. I can truly say that I've never read anything quite like Clown Girl. I pick this book up at Portland's 2016 Wordstock, at the Hawthorne Books booth in the book fair. The cover, same as shown above, immediately caught my attention. How can anyone resist a rubber chicken? The woman working the booth enthusiastically told me how much she loved Drake's novel and how Kristen Wiig had purchased the film rights. I couldn't help but picture Wiig in the title role as I was reading. She'd be perfect.
The unexpected elements is what really made Clown Girl unusual. A lost rubber chicken is funny enough, but there is a whole storyline of Nita needing to collect a days worth of urine for a medical test. She has been given gear for the collection and this becomes a burden that last for days. It seems simple enough that she should collect all of her pee for a day, but nothing about her life is simple. Nita's burdens also include her various costumes and props, like an enormous pair of fake breasts. Not only is her life cumbersome, but this extends to her clown costumes, that weigh her down in a manner that is more pathetic and sad, than comical. She doesn't have people in her life, so these physical items take on a larger importance, these things that have been entrusted to her care are precious. It's heartbreaking when her dog, the one living thing that loves her back, goes missing.
For as much as Nita is a an unusual character, I think that many women will relate to her sense of optimism towards her relationships with men. She wants love and a normal relationship so desperately, that she overlooks some major warning signs. She gives all of herself, without receiving anything in return. She has pinned so much hope on Rex, that when a good man comes into her life, she hardly notices him.
Beyond Drake's imaginative story, she has a real knack for writing vivid descriptions and snappy dialogue. I kept stopping to admire her phrasing. Drake definitely has a unique world view.
DISLIKE- On a whole, I really enjoyed Clown Girl, and thought that it was highly imaginative and heartfelt. If anything, I found my interest waning in the last third of the novel. Although there is plenty of humor, Nita's world is a heavy one, filled with much sadness. I think my interest waning, was really me wanting a change in tone. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but it doesn't come until the very end of the story. Baloneytown is a dingy, violent, unpleasant place.
RECOMMEND- Yes! Oddly enough, I happen to have several friends who make a living as clowns ( this is for you guys), but this is also for people not in the clowning industry! Drake has an unusual story, with a plucky protagonist that's worth a read. As a bonus, Chuck Palahniuk was in a writer's group with Drake, and he penned a very flattering and touching forward to Clown Girl.