Erased by Jim Krusoe

cover_erasedI enjoyed Girl Factory, and am a fan of the folks at Tin House, so I was interested to read Jim Krusoe’s latest work Erased.  Here is the publisher’s description:

Abandonment, life, death, and, oddly, Cleveland are explored in the hilarious second installment of Jim Krusoe’s trilogy about resurrection.

In Erased, Krusoe takes on a dead mother who mysteriously sends notes from the beyond to her grown son, Theodore, the owner of a mail-order gardening-implement business. “I need to see you,” the first card reads. Theodore does what any sensible person would: he ignores it. But when he gets a second card that’s even more urgent, Theodore leaves his quiet home in St. Nils for a radiantly imagined Cleveland, Ohio, to track down his mother. There, aided by Uleene, the last remaining member of Satan’s Samaritans, an all-girl biker club, he searches through the realms of women’s clubs, art, rodent extermination, and sport fishing until he finds the answers he seeks.

This had me intrigued as I found the balance between absurdest comedy and philosophical questioning in Girl Factory entertaining and thought provoking. Plus, it satirizes Cleveland.  That alone has to be worth some laughs.

But for whatever reason, Erased didn’t quite work for me.  Erased is still the same blend of dream like states and all too real reality.  It still comes with a host of funny quips, entertaining characters, and absurd situations as Krusoe’s previous work.  And I enjoyed that aspect.

But it seemed to me that Krusoe turned up the absurdest and surrealist aspects of the novel to such a degree that the plot or narrative got lost.  I realize that perhaps the plot in the traditional sense wasn’t the point.  But for me there needs to be something that pulls the story forward and also causes it to cohere into something more than a collection of words; no matter how well crafted.

As the summary above makes clear, the basic plot is Ted’s search for his mother and the twist is whether she is dead or not.  Krusoe uses this search to introduce a sort of absurdest portrait of Cleveland.  In his search for his mother Ted meets some unique characters and interacts with some odd community groups and clubs.  Each time he thinks he is closer to resolving the mystery of his mother but each time he seems farther from the truth.

Much of this process is quite funny.  Ted is the sort of good nature average Joe that assumes the best of people and shrugs off bad circumstances with a stoic resolve to make the best of things.  And Krusoe warps things but in a way this simply highlights the often absurd nature of “reality.”

But as the story progressed I never really got a sense of what was underlying Ted’s quest; either in terms of the narrative or a more philosophical underpinning.  This causes the book to really bog down in the middle.  The interludes between chapters in the form of interviews with people who have come back from the dead only heightened this confusion for me.  The parts didn’t seem to add up to a more coherent whole.

The book’s pace picks up significanly towards the end as we finally begin to get some clarity as to what is going on with Ted’s mother – mostly through a rambling explanation at a bowling alley.  But even the conclusion brought little sense of what the story was all about.

I have a feeling that part of the problem was my own lack of concentration and focus.  I have been in a bit of a funk this summer and it could be that I never really got into Erased and thus didn’t give it the focus that is often needed to enjoy and appreciate this sort of fiction.  Not having read a great deal of Krusoe’s previous work it could also be that Girl Factory balanced the traditional narrative elements and the abusrd/surreal in a way that suited my tastes where Erased emphasized the narrative less.

Whatever the reason, Erased felt a bit like finding myself lost in a maze.  I could appreciate the skill that went into creating the maze, and even enjoy parts of the adventure, but when I got out I felt more relieved than excited or challenged.

So if you enjoy fiction with an absurdest and surreal style peppered with satire and social commentary then you will probably enjoy Erased.  But if you are looking for a more traditional nrrative style or plot this book may not be for you.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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