At first glance you might think that Girl Factory by Jim Krusoe is just another story about a lovable loser. Or, maybe it is another one of those unreliable narrators. Or maybe it is a subtle political statement about the objectification of women. In fact, it might be all of these things. But to me it is about the role of perception and self-deception in our lives.
Allow me to steal PW’s plot summary:
In the basement of a Southern California yogurt shop one hot summer night, Jonathan, a down-on-his-luck fro-yo slinger, discovers several young, beautiful naked women encased in glass and suspended lifelessly in a milky mixture. Jonathan’s boss, Spinner, catches him nosing around and reveals his experiment: acidophilus, yogurt’s active culture, has the uncanny ability to preserve and nourish life, he explains, and the women bobbing before Jonathan’s wide eyes are making “an investment in their future.” When foul play suddenly makes the women Jonathan’s wards, he has to see if he has the right stuff to care for them-and perhaps free them.
This is a succinct plot summation and it gives you an idea of the comic nature of the story. But the real focus of the novel is Jonathan’s inability to do anything right and the flawed perception and self-deception that is at the root of his problems.
Jonathan is certainly an unreliable narrator. He presents each of his actions and decisions as rational and well intentioned even as each ends in disaster and failure. At the start of the story, Jonathan sets out to save a dog unjustly imprisoned and facing euthanasia. Despite his good intentions, however, this rescue attempt ends in death and mayhem and the release of a dangerous and vicious dog.
Once he finds the women in the basement, Jonathan once again proceeds with a plan to rescue them and once again things end badly. This is a pattern in his life. In fact, one of the women suspended in yogurt resembles a girlfriend Jonathan may or may not have left on the side of the road in Mexico.
Jonathan as lovable loser provides some comic moments. You have to chuckle as he tries to manage the increasing mess he has made of his life with only the feeblest of mental and social skills. As things come crashing down around him he seems convinced he is just one lucky break away from solving his problems.
What made Girl Factory more intriguing, at least for me, was whether Jonathan was really a bumbling idiot or whether there was something a little more sinister at work. Is he just stupid – unable to see his lame ideas and rationalizations for what they are – or is he really a sort of psychopath who rationalizes his violence by acting like everything is just an honest mistake or misunderstanding?
Jonathan beans an employee at the dog shelter with a crowbar, plays a role in the death of the women in the yogurt shop basement, and might have abandoned his girlfriend in the middle of nowhere while on a road trip in Mexico. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theory nut to wonder if the bodies pilling up around Jonathan are more than just accidents.
And all of this is wrapped up in this comic, almost absurd, story about women suspended in yogurt and whether Jonathan can resuscitate them with some combination of soap and water. Krusoe never reveals the answer to any of the questions but lets the reader attempt to work it out on their own.
And let’s be honest, Krusoe may take things to an absurd level, but I think we can all admit that perception plays a huge role in our lives and it isn’t always easy to spot the difference between harmless rationalization and dangerous self-deception.
However you come down on what the story is really about, Girl Factory is certainly entertaining. And short enough to be considered a novella, with a quick and engaging style, it is a quick read. Its wry humor and insightful descriptions of human nature and American culture will bring a smile to your face and occasionally a chuckle.
But I bet it will also leave you pondering what it was really all about.