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“What really stands out is her depiction of [the] city. This is not the twee wonderland of Portlandia…Drake combines [her characters’] lives in a quirky, knowing way, showing the complexities of modern-day female life, species Pacific Northwest native.”
“Monica Drake has written a take-your-breath-away good, blow-your mind wise, crack-your-heart-open beauty of a novel. The Stud Book is a smart, sexy, comic, compassionate, absorbing, and necessary story of our times.”
Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild and Tiny Beautiful Things
“Like a mandrill's florid display, The Stud Book is Monica Drake's vivid show of talent, verve and attraction. You will fall in love with her characters as they fight against the enclosures—or are they cages?— of adulthood and parenthood, before ultimately learning to live in blessed, but now unbowed, captivity.”
Karl Taro Greenfeld, author of Triburbia
“The Stud Book is a dreamy, druggy, sexy concoction -- no surprise coming from the author of Clown Girl. I was instantly consumed by its evocative exploration of motherhood in the Pacific Northwest. Monica Drake's vision of the world is like no other.”
Jami Attenberg, author of The Middlesteins and The Melting Season
“I haven't had this much fun since Flannery O'Connor or Kathryn Dunn. FINALLY a book for our times, of our times, emerging from the minds and bodies of real--as opposed to fake-o imagined--women. Hilarious, heart-wrenching, and stylistically brilliant, The Stud Book is about who we are and why we matter--about our stubborn, beautiful drive to make a life, love, a world inhabitable for those who come after us. If women carry whole worlds into unknown futures, Monica Drake is the mapmaker of the human condition. I love this book out of my mind. I will read it and pass it on to everyone, ever. Proof that women writers have arrived--that they can not only make it to the show, they can intellectually and creatively steal it.”
Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Chronology of Water and Dora: A Headcase.
“The Stud Book is the freshest look at the tyranny of the baby bump since Rosemary got pregnant. Monica Drake’s witty, irreverent novel follows a group of friends in Portland, Oregon, as they struggle with middle age, mating, marriage, and an onslaught of comical humiliations. Drake is one of the smartest, funniest writers working today and The Stud Book moves from farce to satire to tender melodrama without missing a beat. If I’m ever missing at sea, search nearby deserted islands, and look for this book. I’ll be the one clutching it between my dehydrated, crab bitten hands. But don’t bother me. I’ll be reading.”
Chelsea Cain, author of the NYT best selling Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell series.
In this darkly comic novel, Clown Girl lives in Baloneytown, a neighborhood so run down and penniless that drugs, balloon animals, and even rubber chickens contribute to the local currency. Against a backdrop of petty crime, Clown Girl struggles to find her place in the world of high art; she has dreams of greatness and calls on the masters, Charlie Chaplin, Kafka, and da Vinci for inspiration. But all is not art in her life: in an effort to support herself and her under-employed performance-artist boyfriend, she is drawn into the world of paying jobs, and finds herself unwittingly turned into a “corporate clown,” trapped in a cycle of meaningless, high paid gigs which veer dangerously close, then closer to prostitution. Using the lens of clown life to illuminate a struggle between artistic integrity and an economic reality, Monica Drake has created a novel that embraces the high comedy of early film stars—most notably Chaplin and W.C. Fields. At the same time Drake manages to raise questions about issues of class, gender, economics and prejudice. This debut novel is an stunning blend of the bizarre, the humorous, and the gritty. The novel resists easy classification but is completely accessible to a general audience.
“Writers are nothing if not rivals, but competition as good as Monica Drake is a blessing.
Clown Girl is more than a great book. Clown Girl is its own reality.
We should all have an arch enemy this brilliant.”
—Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club
Out front, our battered ambulance slept in the glowing halo of its own white, rusted roof and reflected the buzzing street light. I called, "Chance," in a whisper, as I walked out to the ambulance. "Here girl. Come on, let's go. Come on home.”
My hands shook, one wrapped around the Valerian highball. A car crawled slowly down the block. Something creaked on William’s porch. I moved fast, swung open the ambulance’s back doors, climbed up and let myself fall into the lush pile of props and costumes nested in the back of the ambulance; the darkness was haunted by the ghost trace of Rex’s body, the air filled with sweat and kerosene, as though he were in the ambulance with me.
It was warmer in the ambulance than outside. I kicked a foot through loose clothes on the floor until I felt something solid, then reached down into the clothes. It was an empty can, labeled Canned Laughter. A sight gag. I threw the can back into the pile. Fished again.
Every space inside the ambulance opened into storage. There was storage in the ceiling and floor. The single cot folded open like a trunk. There was a medicine chest attached to the wall and when I opened the latch, face paint, body glue, fake eyelashes, artificial scars and latex ears tumbled out.
Below the medicine chest was a single backward-facing chair, where an EMT would sit. The chair opened up, like a wooden box with a padded top. None of these compartments had what I needed.
Under the costumes, swimming in the clothes, were beanbags and juggling balls, Angel and Devil Sticks, fake cigar boxes, spinning plates and rubber rings. I toe-tapped the edge of a Diabolo, and pulled on a short pink wig. The pink hair had been bunched into fat tufts with dabs of super glue.
I was a toy in a toy box, one plaything among many.
Then my hand, deep in the props, slid across the broad nylon curve of the Pendulous Fake Breast Set. Ah-ha! Rex hadn’t used the Pendulous Fake Breast Set in ages, but still I recognized the shape and texture before I pulled its weight to the surface. It was a peach colored bib, with sand-filled nylon sacs like water balloons that hung in front. I slipped the bib over my neck, on top of my clothes. I gave one boob a squeeze and it let out a duck call. The other side chirped like a dog toy. Voila!
Those boobs were practically Kevlar, a bulletproof vest. They were the leaded apron a hygienist makes you wear at the dentist, the body armor of the Army Reserve. Safe. That’s how I felt behind the Pendulous Fake Breasts—safe, sexy and funny. What more could a clown want?
Guys aren’t the only clowns who can play the Big Girl suit. Why limit myself to fake ears and noses? I got down on my knees in the pile of costumes, new jugs swinging low, and kept up the search. Soon enough, my hand found the curve of the Fabulous Fat Ass. The matching partner, the bottom half of a two-piece ensemble. And just like that, a new idea was born: Hello Juicy Caboosey Show!
It all made sense. I’d be a sassy, busty clown girl juggling fire. Of course, why not? I’d play to crowds high and low. I’d find the fine line between Crack’s clown whore and my own comic interpretation, work both sides and move easily from the comedy of burlesque to strip tease, slapstick to sexy. I’d graduate from Clown Girl to Clown Woman.
I stood on my knees in the world of costumes, slid down the elastic waist of my stripped satin pants, and sang quietly, I’m every woman…The Fabulous Fat Ass snapped on in front. If getting dressed as a clown is about tapping into spiritual guides, finding history in the clothes and makeup, well, my spiritual guide for this show was one big girl, sexy, round and ripe. Who wants to be a skinny, orphaned, emancipated clown bruised by a miscarriage? No, I’d transform myself into a fertility goddess. It was the Venus of Willendorf calling me out.
Other than a little camel toe, as I stretched the formerly loose pants back over the Ass, it all came together so easily! I’d invent my own show, self promote and move from clown lackey to star performer.
I pulled the Valerian vial from my long pocket and shot a few more drops of Valerian over the tumbler of melting ice to calm my thrilled nerves, mitigate my fear of success, fear of failure. I could do this. I could bust out in my own newly busty way.
And the key to success was Rex’s tip: Burn shit up. Light anything on fire, audiences love it. I swung the melons left and right, shimmied my shoulders and on my knees did the Grand Teton jiggle dance.
I’d do a new silent, sexy version of Kafka: Gregor Samsa wakes up, finds he’s metamorphosed into a woman with an hour glass figure—where every second counts!—and his world’s on fire. I’d do a busty Beef Brisket dance, on fire. Two Clowns in a Shower on fire. And Who’s Hogging the Water?—that’d be mixed genre, soft porn plus fire. Even an ordinary juggling show with a bodacious bod and the pins on fire would be a new show altogether.
I found a tin of face paints in the medicine chest. In the cabinet’s mirror, I patted white on my cheeks, drew stars around my eyes, and lined my lips deep red.
A narrow cabinet opposite the cot, near the ambulance’s back doors, had once held an oxygen tank and hoses. I crouched down in front of that cabinet, and rested on the Ass like it was a beanbag chair. Soon as I opened the slim cabinet door Rex’s spare fire juggling batons, his best maple-and-asbestos handled torches, fell out. Like a sign that I was on the right path, the torches fell right into my new mondo bazookas, right into my ripe casabas, bounced off and landed in my lushly padded lap.
As I stood in my homemade crop circle in Herman’s backyard, I saw the first of two complications: Juggling with boobs demands a whole new skill set, with a new center of balance and an increased sense of self. In short—the boobs were in the way.
I started with practice tosses. Three balls, in the air. My arms smacked the side of the heavy, swinging nylon sacs. I knocked into one gazonga and missed a catch, first try. The boob barked out it’s duck call. But the Fabulous Ass kept me grounded and I gave it a shake-shake-shake, like maracas, as I tossed the juggling balls.
I had a small tape player in the backyard, and played Stevie Wonder in a whisper as I warmed up. When the summer came…One ball, then two, then three in the air, quick and easy tosses; I grew accustomed to moving with the Pendulous Breasts. It was great to be up and working so early. Shadows moved in the hedges that lined the yard. The tall grass rustled. This was the clown equivalent of farm work. Like milking the cows. I tossed two balls up into the night sky as one came down, then reversed the pattern. Two down, one up; two up, one down. Milking the Cows I’d call it.
Simple stuff, child’s play.
Juggling is like dancing, and it’s a form of self hypnosis. The balls were my partners, caught in our rhythmic swing. When I juggle, I can’t help but tell a story as I watch the balls move; I individualize and anthropomorphize. The balls touched my hands and flew on their route again as though I had little or nothing to do with their trajectory. And as they bounced, they were kids on the playground, running and jumping. They were little goats, leaves in the wind. A green ball was the leader and two reds followed, in a circle. Or the two reds were friends and green tagged along in opposition. One moved right while the other two swung left. Two kids got along, one was an outcast. Then they all turned around, followed the rebel, the renegade.
I bent my knees and did a booty-swing as I juggled. The Fabulous Ass swung away, then back, and gave my tush a comforting pat-pat-pat.
When I gained grace and quit slapping my arms into the flop of the Pendulous Breasts, I switched to batons. Batons in the night air were pure magic. The ivory sticks lifted into the dark sky, waved to their brothers the stars, and twirled close without touching each other; I barely touched each one. They sprang from my hand. Slivers of the moon.
With my confidence up, I went for the fuel—a can of turpentine, from my room, meant for cleaning brushes.
Like pouring drink in a drunk, I poured turpentine down the aluminum throat of the torch where it would fuel an asbestos wick. The torch was a solid thing, elegant in its slim curves. I filled two more, wiped them down with a rag, tossed the rag in the grass and set the fueled torches aside unlit.
One thing about juggling fire: keep your fuel in a juggler’s fueling bottle with a narrow, EZ-Pour nozzle and a Safe-T-Snap lid. They make the bottles for a reason. I couldn’t find Rex’s fuel bottle. I used turp straight from the turp can, and rested the can to the side on the long matted grass.
I snapped the lighter, and the familiar whoosh told me who was in control: It was in my hands this round. Not Rex. Not some other clown. Me. I swung one burning torch into the air and it was a comet against the sky. Like a well trained bird, the torch landed back in my open hand.
And I was the Statue of Liberty.
I was the Clown of Liberty, and claimed my freedom with a new show. The yard danced amber and blue in the firelight and the distant edges closed in, darker than ever against the blaze. I was protected from eyes by hedges, protected from the world by my Kevlar ta-tas. Ready to go. I threw back a shot of my own fuel, Valerian tincture down my open throat, then lit a second torch from the first.
Two torches crossing in a perfect arc overhead was the dance of white ghosts, leaving tracers. Beautiful! It was hypnotic, the fire shimmering and wild against the tranquil black background of deep night.
Adding a third torch was tricky. I had to manage two in one hand, with the first two already burning furiously their eternal clown flame.
With three torches lit, I adjusted the pink wig, turned up the radio a smidge, and gave the first serious, dangerous toss of my new career. For rhythm, I sang along with Stevie Wonder. Very superstitious…I shook my Fabulous booty. The weight of it was like a Congo line, hands against my hips, shaking back. Wash your face and hands… I swung the Bodacious Melons…when you believe in things that you don’t understand, and you suffer….
The batons overhead crossed in their arc like a magician’s trained doves, my ghost relatives. There’s a power in fire and I had that power harnessed. I was transfixed. Transformed. In my Zone. I was an angel lost in a dream in the wilderness of the yard, a conqueror with the whole world ahead of me. The air was soft as water against my skin. The moon smiled down. A falling star answered any questions I had and the answer was Good Luck, Fellow Star! The message from a kindred spirit, a falling scrap of fire that burned out, light years away.
The torches, those harnessed meteors, danced at my command.
A voice cut through the dark, over Stevie’s song: “What’re you doing? Shit, is that you, Clown Girl?”
And I flinched, the dream broken.
Nadia-Italia. Her voice came at me from nowhere, from everywhere. As I flinched I lost the rhythm. One torch fell from the sky like a dead bird. I caught the other two, second and third. The first lay still, a broken-necked dove burning in its own quiet pool of orange and blue flame against the roots of dry, matted grass.
I didn’t have time to look for Italia, but instead held the two torches in one hand, bent low and ran fast to collect my fallen friend, my trained pet. The sand-filled sacs of the Pendulous Breasts swung forward as I stooped. The momentum pulled me faster, with the weight of the funbag-sandbags at my shoulders. I kicked a leg to find my balance, but the Fabulous Ass bounced against my own ass and pushed me ahead in my crouch. I couldn’t see the radio underfoot below the flopping boob bib; the radio rolled under the swing of a leg, and a muffled Stevie Wonder sang into the dirt. I stumbled. My oversized shoe hit the turp can and knocked the can into the grass. I tried to catch myself, but the weight of the boobs! The oversized shoes! My bad hip called my name, and laughed in a crackle of ligaments. One knee went down, into the damp ground, and the torches in my hand smacked mother earth. I skinned my palm. My pants ripped at the knee.
The first torch down doubled its quiet flame, like an accident victim vomiting blood into the roots of the overgrown yard. The flame seeped and grew, and fast formed a line fed by the spill of the tipped-over can—then the can of turpentine itself was touched by fire; fire bloomed from the spout like a sight gag, and in a loud whoosh the can swelled. The sides blackened and bent.
“Jee-sus!” Nadia-Italia said, behind me, from the window upstairs. Grass smoldered under the torches in my hand where they too lay along the ground. The turp rag leapt in its own quick fire.
I picked up the torches, stomped on the flames, and gave myself a hot-foot I’d never forget. The rubber on my shoes curled and darkened. Still stepping in fire, I reached to straighten the can. “It’s okay,” I called. Burn shit up. Audiences love it.
“Chick, like it’ll explode!” Italia’s voice was a sharp screech, her own ambulance wail. “Herman, wake up!”
Didn’t sound like my audience loved it.
“Calm down, calm down,” I said, and stomped faster. “No need to tell pop. Show’ll be over in a minute, and panic will get us nowhere.” But was she right? Would the can explode? I was shielded only by the false security of the fake boobs.
I took seventh grade chemistry. “It won’t explode until it creates a vacuum,” I said. I shoved the unlit ends of the burning torches into loose ground. “It has to burn through the fuel, first.” I inched forward, one hand out. My voice cracked as I yelled, though I tried to sound confident. My hands shook, and my heart was a rush of blood washing veins, chemicals. Nerves.
“What the hell?” Herman’s voice was at the window now, to join Italia’s panicked song.
“She set the yard on fire!” Natalia shrilled. “I saw her do it.”
“Under control.” I said.
Nothing was under control. The yard burned in three places.
I grabbed the can in one fast move, like the can was an animal ready to run. I grabbed it, and caught it. But that can was more than an animal. It was Loki, God of Fire. Unleashed. The sides of the metal can sizzled under my hands. I yelped and flung the can far away from me, into the tall grass of the yard, and a streamer of fire followed the can like a comet. A shimmering line of yellow white flame fell on the grass like a rope, like the tail of a kite. The flame snapped and hissed and fast grew into a wall.
Then my short pink hair was a flash of flame too, as fire jumped to the nylon strands and dabs of superglue. There was no time to think. I beat my hands against my head, against the burning wig. The world smelled like melting Barbie dolls, the burned breath of a Christmas toy dropped against the Yule log. I pulled the pink hair off and flung it, but too late. My nylon sleeve was in flames.
“Crap-ola! Crap-ola!” I ran in a circle, and threw myself down. I rolled on the grass where the grass wasn’t on fire, but the Pendulous Breasts resisted my momentum, and everywhere I rolled sparks flew. The Pendulous Breasts duck-quacked and chirped a cacophony of party sounds. I was guilty, and now I was on fire. Who would’ve known Hell was so efficient? A few mistakes and Hell came to me, faster than room service.
Stevie Wonder’s voice melted, then ground to a slurry, low halt.
A fist came at my face in scattered blows. I was blinded. No—not a fist. It was a hard blast, a bitter stream, a fire extinguisher beat against me. “Coulrophobia!” I sputtered. The fire extinguisher gang!
The blast moved from my face down my arm, then was gone. I blinked until my vision cleared.
The first thing I saw was Herman’s naked muscled butt, his pants in one hand. He sprayed a white blast of fire extinguisher foam, but the extinguisher was small, and here sized definitely mattered; it sent a stream light as piss dancing over the sizzling yard. Get the hose!” He yelled. “Spray down the house.”
I tried to breathe.
When I didn’t move, he yelled again. He said, “You’re out, okay? You’re out. So help with this shit.”
Out? Kicked out? I lay on my back. The Pendulous Breasts sat on my chest like twin demons. The sand was twice as heavy soaked by the fire extinguisher. I was beat up. Spent. “Out of the house?” I asked.
Herman didn’t let on if he heard me. He ran to get the hose himself. Italia came from the house more slowly. Wrapped in a tiny blue bathrobe, legs naked, she sipped a carton of protein drink and leaned away from the smoke. She said “God, you’re self centered. He means out, like you’re not on fire, right?” Then she said, “Oh, wait. I see a spark.” With one long, muscled and tattooed arm, in slow motion, she poured her drink on me. The protein drink was a pale, lumpy cascading ripple from the dark sky, a thick splash against my open eye, and I jerked away. Nauseous. She tapped my scorched Big Booty with one foot. “Girl, you’ve let yourself go. The least you could do is get up.”
Nita, or Clown Girl, lives in Baloneytown, a seedy neighborhood where drugs, balloon animals, and even rubber chickens contribute to the local currency. Against a backdrop of petty crime, she struggles to live her dreams, calling on cultural masters Charlie Chaplin, Kafka, and da Vinci for inspiration. In an effort to support herself and her layabout performance-artist boyfriend, Clown Girl finds herself unwittingly transformed into a “corporate clown,” trapping herself in a cycle of meaningless, high-paid gigs that veer dangerously close to prostitution.
Monica Drake has created a novel that riffs on the high comedy of early film stars — most notably Chaplin and W. C. Fields — to raise questions of class, gender, economics, and prejudice. Resisting easy classification, this debut novel blends the bizarre, the humorous, and the gritty with stunning skill.
Use the questions and author’s quotations that follow to guide your group’s discussion of Clown Girl.
“… The pace of the narrative is methamphetamine-frantic, as Drake drills down past the face paint and into Nita’s core, often using Nita’s relations with men as the bit. Nita emerges as a fully-realized character, bearing witness to a lot of the emotionally ridiculous and just a hint of the sublime.”
“Drake’s humor will strike some as dark, but it would be more accurately described as shades of gray shot through with hot pink. Her Nita is hilarious and poignant, fantastical and real.”
-Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett, The Oregonian
“a tight, claustrophobic little tale with a charming cast of self-obsessed screwups … ferocious, funny”
“Riffing on language and revising her jokes in nervous flurries, Nita is the most endearingly teary clown since Smokey Robinson.”