THE BOY WHO KILLED CATERPILLARS teaches us how to see afresh how sentences look and function on the page, isolating their sparse beauty, floating each in a small sea of white space, making each tentative, always ready to try a new version of itself, making each as obsessive about itself as the unhinged Oedipal narrator is about himself, about his universe of childhood secrets, fears, trespasses, violence, voyeurism, a frightening father, an ineffectual mother, a bevy of bullying boys, a houseful of haunting revelations. Tight, clean, spare, this is the real deal.
—Lance Olsen, author of Nietzche's Kissesand Anxious Pleasures
From The Meridian
By Tina Blevins
Joshua Kornreich’s The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars is the first fiction title from Marick Press, a small non-profit establishment previously devoted to publishing what it deems “the best new poetry from an eclectic range of aesthetics—poetry that is technically accomplished, distinctive in style, and thematically fresh.” It comes as no surprise, then, that Kornreich’s novel (his own first) is marketed as “a book of lingual daring.” Daring is an apt word, and an initial flip-through may turn the stomachs of some prospective readers; Kornreich’s prose is indeed one of sentence-level separation, repetitive, baffled and often disturbing like the mind of his narrator, an unnamed eight-year-old boy:
My dad said that Mike Bossy’s a fag.
I think my dad was wrong.
Mike Bossy never gets into fights, but he isn’t a fag.
Mike Bossy hugs his teammates after he scores goals, but he isn’t a fag.
You know something?
I just thought of something.
If I only rang the doorbell today, maybe I wouldn’t have had to kill her.
Such thematic material naturally begs comparison to novels such as Iain Banks’ The Wasp Factory. Both Kornreich’s Boy and Banks’ Frank Cauldhame are self-confessed killers who grapple with many of the same demons: mysterious and grotesque fathers, issues of gender identity, highly ordered and highly demanding worldviews, even savage dogs. Nevertheless, The Boy Who Killed Caterpillars is very much its own creature, and the reader who chooses to follow the story of Kornreich’s Boy will not regret the decision. Much of the pleasure in reading The Boy Who Killed Caterpillers does indeed come from the use of the language itself; once adjusted to the rhythm and flow of Kornreich’s isolated sentences, the reader may find it difficult to imagine the Boy’s story told any other way. Yet beneath his public image as a linguistic trailblazer, Kornreich proves himself to be a fine storyteller: outrageous and bizarre, certainly, but also subtle, perceptive, and sensitive enough to win the reader’s heart.