Blood and Guts in High School by Kathy Acker

by Kristopher Cook
Time to Read: 2 minutes

Graphic non-linear writing, mixed with sexually striking drawings, notes and symbols, it can only be Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School.

How far is too far?

Initially banned in both Germany and South Africa for being too pornographic, Blood and Guts in High School has garnered an underground following, especially amongst certain female writers.

Blood and Guts is experimental in the broadest sense of the word.

Kathy Acker is clearly an interesting character, but only in the way that you want to poke Bret Easton-Ellis with a stick.

Her whole persona of ‘punk-rock-chick’ turned ‘feminist-author’ feels over-the-top beyond belief.

On top of all of that, Acker is known as a constant liar, embellishing every aspect of her life to make it more dramatic. Imagine if she had an Instagram account, Jesus!

Janey as a Ghost

The story was composed by Acker in short segments throughout a notebook she kept on her. These sections were broken down into paragraphs, sketches and general note-taking.

My problem with this style is that it’s way too fragmented to offer any real cohesion, thus leaving the overall plot, dare I say, lacklustre.

However, don’t be fooled by its sporadic nature.                                 

There’s a lot of trauma going on in the book, from the sexual violence inflicted upon Janey, to the scenes she witnesses in Tangier – all of which are disturbingly graphic.

Written from the third-person perspective, the book follows Janey on her awakening.

Janey is locked in a dark room, alone with only a piece of paper, a pencil, and her stuffed toy, who she calls Peter.

Her father, who treats has both his daughter and lover, systematically enters to abuse her, verbally, physically and sexually.

None of the characters featured have any desirable qualities, which makes it difficult to remember them, let alone have a favourite.

I feel this is another reason why this book is so overrated.

Quantity over quality would be an ideal subtitle here.

I think it’s clear by now that I really didn’t like this book, and not for the nature or language used. Although the prose is often repetitive, boring and mostly redundant, it’s the lack of narrative kept me from caring.

It’s that old adage that if you inflict enough punishment on the protagonist, then the reader must care, right? Wrong.

Janey is a bland girl with the personality of a bar of soap; people use her but only to wash their hands. She offers little more.

Closing Thoughts

I went into this thinking it would be the kind of book I’d like – Aggressive, nihilistic and totally off-the-wall, but alas, this is what failed it.

Blood and Guts in High School is angry, disjointed, pretentious shit.

Unless you’re in the habit of inflicting pain upon your own eyes, then avoid at all costs.

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