Every once in a while, I read a book and when I'm finished, I think, "what?" That's how I felt about The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo.
Audrey Mapes is a girl born with no feet. Quite early on she begins to eat things that people don't normally eat. It starts out with Play-Doh and progresses to crayons then onto other things like quarters and picture frames. Audrey eats everything. Eventually, she makes her way to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and eats nearly the entire city.
Initially, people in Kalamazoo are charmed by Audrey and welcome her. They develop a plan: she eats the city, they replace everything she eats. She eats houses, they rebuild them. She eats municipal buildings and businesses and they rebuild them, exactly as they were. The economy booms, Kalamazoo is a happy place - until the economy suffers, and Kalamazoo is no longer a happy place.
There isn't a "normal" member of the Mapes family. Audrey eats everything. McKenna, her older sister, eats nearly nothing. What she does eat, she regurgitates into her mouth and eats again (it's really pretty disgusting). Toby, Audrey and McKenna's brother, is obsessed with measuring himself and McKenna, his twin. Murray Mapes, the father, is an inventor, but nothing ever comes of his inventions. Misty Mapes, the mother, kills herself. Grandma Pencil, Misty's mother, is a religious nut who is also controlling and frequently not nice.
To be honest, I can't decide if I liked this book or not. The strange story reminds me in some ways of Kafka, but only vaguely. The author lived in Kalamazoo at some point, but the book is full of inaccuracies. I have lived in Kalamazoo since 1995, and it annoys me to no end that he gets things wrong - silly things, that is, such as talking about Main Street. We don't have a Main Street. We have East Main and West Main, but no “Main Street.” The Mapes family actually lives in Grand Rapids, MI, where I grew up, and inaccuracies occur there, too. They don't detract from the story if you don't know either city, but they will make you crazy if a) you're familar with either city, and b) care about such things.
The back cover says,
"In this charming novel, Darrin Doyle paints a captivating portrait of the all-American family - if the all-American family's youngest child ate an entire city in Michigan with a smile, that is. Doyle has a flair for writing about family dysfunction with a twist. With a unique blend of realism and fantasy. The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo is the moving story of the hauntingly beautiful Audrey Mapels, who began her illustrious "career" by downing crayons by the carton only to graduate to eating an entire city one bit at a time. With vivid, acerbic wit, Doyle details the life of the world's most gifted 'eatist' through the eyes of Audrey's sister, McKenna. Through her eyes, we see that the real tragedy of the Mapes is not the destruction of a city, but rather the quiet disintegration of a family who just didn't know how to love."
I didn't find the story witty, in the acerbic sense or otherwise. A few instances are mildly funny. For example,
Doyle says about the eating of Kalamazoo that some people consider it akin to Sodom and Gomorrah, or Noah's flood. However,
"Kalamazoo was no den of sin, not even in the late 1990s. So the idea that the citizens were being admonished with destruction is ridiculous. Second point: God had already cleaned house in 1980 with a tornado that danced down Main Street and decimated the city to the tune of twenty million dollars. How much sin can redevelop in less than two decades? Rebuild first, sodomize and whore later - that's the general rule."
This book is solidly middle of the road. I didn't hate it, I didn't love it.