Monthly Archives: March 2015

Book Review: Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend by Erika T. Wurth

Calley Nelson's Book Review of Crazy Horse's Girlfriend by Erika T. Worth

Erika T. Wurth creates a coming-of-age story that is both gritty and complex in her debut novel, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend. Set in an impoverished town outside of Denver during the ‘90s, the 16-year-old protagonist, Margaritte, is on a mission. If she can make enough money before she turns 18, she will have the means to seek happiness and stability somewhere away from home. Every night Margaritte sneaks out of her bedroom window at night to sell pot at parties with her cousin. To make matters worse, she has to tell her boyfriend she’s pregnant. Will she be able to get out of her hometown with a child? Should she get an abortion? What will her family think? Will her dad disown her… or worse? Margaritte balances the cumulative weight of these questions as she tries to navigate her daily life without letting anyone in on her secret.

The title, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend, is a nod toward the Native American war hero, Crazy Horse, implying that Margaritte is also in the midst of conflict, the unlikely protagonist in a “Hero’s Story” structure. But it’s not just Magaritte who is figuratively at war, it’s everyone in town. Most young adult novels fall short of realism, romanticizing youth in an unfair way, where white rich kids go to boarding school and discover their true potential while one character falls off the rails. This book is not like that- there is a sense of relatability here. Even the characters that aren’t as important to the main plot are dealt their own dose of problems, whether it’s exploring sexual orientation, racism, co-dependence, substance abuse, or teenage pregnancy.

Erika T. Worth’s prose is simple and callous. She’s not afraid to sling swear words or uncomfortable situations at her characters in an effort to write about one of the most unsentimental teenage existences in YA history. Being set in the “‘90s”, the novel also serves as a period piece, where cellphones are non-existent, heroin is popular, and mixtapes are king. Adults, especially millennials, are sure to find this novel relatable. Wurth’s characters wear wife beaters from Wal-Mart, listen to Christian Metal and lick the Dorito dust off their fingers. They aren’t overtly sophisticated by any means, and even Mike, Margaritte’s boyfriend who seems to have a picturesque house and family, is not as refined as he appears. Adolescence is not fantasized and this novel does not evoke the mythical “glory days” of being a highschooler, in fact, it turns that stereotype completely on its head.

Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend deals with alcoholism in a way that most young adult novels avoid.

“I wondered why Mom had married Dad. She had told me once that she’d gotten pregnant with me while she was finishing up her teacher’s certification in Denver and after that, he proposed. But that she loved him. That she definitely loved him. She told me about watching Mel Brooks movies together and other artsy stuff like that, about dancing with him by the gulf on a pier in Texas, where her family was from, about how shy and quiet he was. How he held her and told her that she was home on their wedding night. How he drank and though it seemed like he drank a lot, it hadn’t seemed like too much until later, much later, when he began to hit her after I was born.”

Here, alcoholism is treated as a complex issue- Margaritte’s father is not treated as an inherently “bad” person. Wurth may be making less of a statement about the complexities of addiction and more of a statement on the depths of human nature. It is unclear how much of the novel is autobiographical (Wurth being a Native American living outside of Denver), but interpretation and Wurth’s intentions aside, her characters are the people in your neighborhood, your acquaintances, and your family.

Despite each character’s blatant faults, there’s always something frustratingly humanizing about each character that transcends their shortcomings. These characters may be lost somewhere in the outskirts of Denver, Colorado, but they are not lost at heart. There is a softness and tenderness to each, in a way that is not unlike Bonnie Jo Campbell’s characters in American Salvage and less like John Green’s idealized teenagers in Looking for Alaska. Wurth has accomplished a feat that most young adult authors wish that they could- she has realistically portrayed the teenage experience.

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The most awkward Q&A ever with Kim Gordon

Kim Gordon's awkward Q&A at the Music Box Theater, Chicago

Everyone understates themselves. Everyone wants to be someone else. Even your idols.

That was the take away from attending a Q&A with Kim Gordon at The Music Box Theater, an event sponsored by the Chicago Humanities Festival. The event was sold out, the front half of the venue packed with journalists. Kim had just released her memoir Girl in a Band, following a sticky break up with her band mate and husband of almost 30 years, detailing the bands build and break. I was expecting to see Kim as a triumphant and ambitious artist and woman, post Sonic Youth and post husband. That wasn’t quite the case.

Sitting on stage in a leather jacket and jeans, Kim Gordon, the former bass player, lyricist, singer and co-founder of Sonic Youth, awkwardly answered the interviewer’s questions, as if she were surprised that she was onstage it all. It was unclear whether the interviewer had read the memoir, or if she knew who Kim was before that night, and she kept mentioning how she hoped that the interview would get less awkward as the conversation went on. It didn’t.

“When you are taking a selfie, do you try to look bad ass or sexy?” The interviewer asked.

The audience was silent as Kim thought about this for a second. Not inexperienced with the press, she was probably ranging around for something tactful to say.

“Uh, there are things I don’t care about as much as some people,” she said, kind of chuckling.

The crowd echoed her, laughing in response, and then there was silence again, until the interviewer realized that Kim wasn’t going to continue talking.

She nodded and shuffled her notes.

Pulling strings, the interviewer asked another half-researched question that didn’t apply much to Kim as an artist.

“So what do you think about the 90s?”

“Uh, I don’t know? As an era? I guess it was kind of underwhelming.”

What did these questions have to do anything with Kim’s book or career? Had the interviewer not seen the trending Ask Her More Campaign? I was outraged.

I was hoping to hear about the process behind her visual art. I wanted to know about her upcoming art exhibits.  I wanted to ask her about the controversial comment she made about Lana Del Rey’s feminism (or lack there of). I wanted to ask her what Sonic Youth album she was most proud of. I wanted to know about the future of Body/Head and her other projects.

If there was anyone I idolized more as a teenager, it was Kim Gordon. She gave me the permission to pick up a guitar. She gave me the permission to create what I wanted to. She was one of the first female performers who inspired me to play, write, and sing free of conventional forms. Because of Kim, I realized that I didn’t have to be a classically trained musician, writer or artist. Writing and playing became enough for me, regardless if I had an audience for it, or if someone thought it was “good” or “bad”.

So to hear that Kim didn’t think of herself as a musician really got me thinking.

Towards the end of the event, I was able to ask her a question about how she handled criticism.

“I don’t deal with it very well,” she said. “[In regards to writing Girl in a Band] I thought, I’m just going to do it. Of course I really thought about who I would offend, but I didn’t want to over think it. It was just my story.”

What can we really do as artists except for that? Maybe it’s just a matter of taste- some interviewers and audiences are going to connect to certain media and subjects and some won’t. Disinterest is the most subtle and distracting form of criticism, and Kim Gordon handled it with an admirable amount of humility and grace.

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