Blood and Guts in High School

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

I didn't get on at all with Acker's writing style; I found the sentences too matter-of-fact, but also rather lengthy at times.
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Written in the '80s, read by me in 2017, I can't help but feel that this hasn't aged well. I'm sure it was revolutionary and shocking when it was first published, but now it just feels a little bit like it's trying too hard to be controversial.
Enter Janey, the central character of the piece, who at the age of 10 is sleeping with her boyfriend who also happens to be her father, and who then ends up on her own in NYC as a prostitute before ending up in Tangiers as a sex slave at the ripe old age of 14.
Along the way she draws pictures of both her father's and her own genitals, has multiple abortions, gives the reader a helpful Arabic lesson and seems to miss her father more as a lover than as a father.
I've got mixed emotions on this one. The underlying story of an abused child is something that happens, it's just Acker's treatment of it pushes it way beyond the boundaries of the probable. By making her so rough and tough and the series of events that befall her so improbable, it detracts from the fact that Janey is clearly the product of the fucked up upbringing that she has endured.
It's certainly an incredibly thought-provoking book, as you dig beneath Janey's external persona and question why she is the way she is. Acker does an excellent job of blending the infantile and the extremely adult in Janey, as she pours out language and thoughts way beyond her tender years.
Definitely not for easily offended / faint-hearted, but a really thought-provoking novel that will stay with you after the final page.
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This book I think wouldn't be for everyone, had an Indie film vibe to it which I happen to enjoy, but it is quite graphic and in your face, with language to match the scenes. Overall I enjoyed it, was a bit uncomfortable reading parts of it, but it was well written in an artsy kind of way.
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So this is story about Janey, a ten-yea-old girl, half-orphan, living with her father who to her is "boyfriend, brother, sister, money, amusement, and father" - and we might add sexual partner. First he rapes her, then she willingly has sex with him because it makes her feel loved. She is suffering from pelvic inflammatory disease, has her first abortion with 13, her second one a month later. Her father sends her to New York City, where apparrently she lives on her own, joins a gang and later is kidnapped, held captive and taught how to be a prostitute. At the age of 14 she gets cancer and dies.

Blood and Guts in High School clearly is a book not for everyone - including me. It is just the type of book I as a teenager would have called "problem book" and which I already hated back then. It now is a Penguin Modern Classic and I really don't see the reason why because usually the titles in this series are of a certain quality. The only reason I'm rating this book two stars instead of one is the writing technique Kathy Acker uses - collage. The story is told from Janey's perspective but alternates between first and third person narration. There are multiple drawings (especially ones of sexual organs), poems, letters etc. (for example the first scene of the book is written as a drama scene). This could have made a decent book but I had a problem with Janey's thoughts. At the end of the book she is 14 but hardly had any education. During her imprisonment she reads The Scarlet Letter, completely understands it and knows how to interpret it. This is quite unlikely as are many of her other thoughts - they are the thoughts of someone maybe 20 years old or older.

(I received a free digital copy via Netgalley/ the publisher. Thanks for the opportunity!)
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Originally written in the 1970s, this Penguin re-release coincides with Acker's untimely death from cancer 20 years ago this year. Ever the enfant terrible, this is deliberately designed to provoke and shock - and that it still can in 2017 would, I think, have amused Acker vastly.

She throws everything into this dislocated narrative: sex, violence, disease, exploitation, corruption, abuse, incest, feminism, capitalism, anger, submission, identity, the grotesque body... with nods along the way to all those master-narratives that construct culture, from Freud and Marx to Hamlet and Sartre. At times deliberately disgusting, at others blackly funny (Janey's analysis of The Scarlet Letter is twisted genius!), this tears up the rule books of what 'fiction', 'narrative', a 'novel' are supposed to be, and creates what only barely passes for a story via a collage of prose, dialogue, verse, drawings, scrawled capitals, 'Persian' writing. 

For all of the ways that this intersects with critical theory, the theorisation of women's writing (think Cixous' écriture féminine, Irigaray, Kristeva) and Lacanian psychoanalysis, it's also dirty and grubby and revelling in its own gleeful rebelliousness and subversive energy. 

Certainly not for everyone...
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Blood and Guts in High School 
Kathy Acker
My Review: ♥ ♥
Kathy Acker led a colourful life. I read her Biography by Chris Kraus (After Kathy Acker) before Blood and Guts in High School. I can see how this book relates to her own experiences. Kathy's life wasn't all roses, and she liked to colour out of the box. This reflects in this book, and it also talks about aspects of her actual life, such as the health issues she suffered from.

Blood and Guts in High School is about a girl, Janey. She finds her life is not going as planned. She lost her mother at a young age and her father is less than perfect. Janey encounters some disturbing sexual experiences. She just wants to be loved, but life can be cruel.

This is not a happy-go-lucky kind of story. Kathy Acker was known in her time for her shock factor. I would say that her work still holds this quality today. Blood and Guts in high school has poems, dialogue and graphic x-rated pictures. Kathy was an interesting person with strong views. Some would call her books master pieces but I'm sorry I just wasn't that into this book. I enjoyed her Biography more.

*ARC received in exchange for a fair review*

Paperback £7.71 or Kindle £4.99. 165 pages
Published January 11th 1984 by Grove Press
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No review given as the book was not for me. I'm all for experimental fiction but this was hard work, so disjointed and jumpy. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to try it.
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Blood and Guts in High School is a surreal and brash book that is novel, poetry, play, translation, and more within a short space. It is the story of Janey Smith, who moves to New York, ends up trapped in a locked room, and writes down bits of her life. In some ways it is a punk coming of age story about imprisonment and sex; in other ways it is a referential book that moves between structures and features Jean Genet and President Carter.

The controversy surrounding the book when it was originally published in 1984 is easy to see through its explicit writing and drawings, its punk attitude, and its dreamlike movement through the streets of America and beyond. It is certainly an interesting read, though like writers like Burroughs, it can be easy to fall off a thread and lose track of everything, and some sections less engaging than others. The content is harsh and shocking and won’t be for everyone, but the rapid, witty, and often painful writing in Blood and Guts in High School is a look at America from the underside that doesn’t lose power all these years later.
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