The Kissing Bug
By Susan Tomaselli.
Daniel Scott Buck, w/ illustrations by Evan B Harris, The Kissing Bug, Spunk Goblin Press, 2008
“The Lady in the Room had the blush of youth in her cheeks. Kristopher wanted to kiss her more than anything in the world. To put his lips on her lips, that most tender of spots, where the skin is as voluptuous as a dark, delicious cherry.”
Our hero Kristopher is a “romantic with an artist’s disposition”, a combination, we are told, “no doubt the most dangerous” (“I suppose you can be a romantic and something else, or something else and an artist”). Even more dangerous, Kristopher is a Conenose Kissing Bug, Triatominae, “six furry legs, a black shell like a beetle, and sometimes two white dots on its back like a pair of eyes. All of them have scythe-shaped noses, perhaps the most unflattering feature of them all. They are not a pleasant sight, that’s for sure..”
That elicit kiss that Kristopher so longs to take would, therefore, be deadly; instead he watches the object of his affection from her ceiling, perched upside-down (“Imagine if you can beginning a story that way, Dear Child, looking at everything turned upside-down”), his love unrequited.
“Sometimes, in the middle of the night, he would find himself thrown in ecstatic loops around the woman, gravitating towards her face. Once, and only once, he crawled onto the tip of her nose while she was asleep. He got so excited by the pure beauty of her lips, he fainted on the spot and tumbled down her cheek into the bed.”
Kristoher doesn’t fit in. He is fond of his Gothic attire, “not entirely impressed by the froufrou costumes of the Lady Bugs and the Butterflies…and even considered [his] a superior style,” but unlike the other Kissing Bugs, he is “very, very thin”, while they are “bloated and drunk most of the time. Bloated and drunk on blood.” Instead of feeding, Kristopher paints. With blood. His “Studio of Solitude covered the entire distance of the ceiling. There were different sections, like in a gallery or a museum, where the planks of wood formed walkways, and sometimes, when Kristopher the Conenose Kissing Bug was feeling especially proud of his artwork, he would stroll upon the boardwalk and admire the designs he had painted on the plaster.”
Kristopher has one wish, that “one day the Lady in the Room wold treat him the way the Girl in the Meadow treated Leyenda the Lady Bug. And maybe, just maybe, the Lady in the Room would let Kristopher cuddle in the folds of her eyelids, or lay between her lips while she slipped into a heavenly, dreamy sleep. And he’d give her a kiss, one that wasn’t stolen.”
The reality, told to him by Leyenda the Lady Bug, a kindred spirit (he “considered both them to be Aesthetes. And that is, Dear Child, a bug who has a refined sensitivity toward the beauties of art and nature”), is more La Belle et Bête: “A spider is creepy-crawly, a worm is creepy-crawly. Understand? You don’t have to be a flightless creature to be creepy! And, believe me, Kissing Bugs are the very definition of creeeee-py.”
The Kissing Bug is far removed from the realms of fairytale (there’s little in the way of a happy ending) and mines instead the fable tradition. Like all good modern fables – and that includes George Orwell’s Animal Farm and Jim Dodge’s Fup and even the novels of Magnus Mills – The Kissing Bug does not shirk from big issues, despite being aimed at a younger readership.
There’s sex, or “sects”: “She unbuttoned the man’s jacket and threw it on the ground. And ripped his shirt up over his head. Then unzipped his trousers in a hurry and pulled them down to his ankles as she pushed him onto the bed. At which time his legs lifted into the air. She removed his boots and tossed them across the room. And now, Dear Child, I must ask you to step outside. Or place your tiny hands over your little eyes. Do not watch what happens next! Go on, now! Get out out of here! Return t the living room and sit in front of television- rife with images of bombs and mutilated corpses!”
And, of course, war and death, the book’s two main themes. Not wishing to give too much of the story away, the bug kingdom is attacked, “covered by a dark cloud for hours.. thousands of Kissing Bugs lost their lives,” there’s retaliation, allegations of ‘terrorism’ and Kristopher’s ally Leyenda is snatched in her sleep and subjected to torture, under the watch of General Khevron and Abu Ghraib-style with crab louse pincers, pine needles and bird feathers (“used for tickling, the most dreadful of all!”). It’s grim stuff: “Hundreds of Kissing Bugs were being held in detention centers based on trumped up charges, slowly starving to death, eventually turning on each other in their cages, creating an orgy of cannibalism like no one had ever seen.”
The moral of this fable? “We are vile creatures. Well, those of us who lack the imagination to become better than our natures.” And who can argue with that?
But, like Roald Dahl or Edward Gorey, two writers whose works The Kissing Bug has been compared, Daniel Scott Buck doesn’t let it get too dark; his authorial interventions, provide welcome relief: “Now, Dear Child, it might be a good idea to turn this book upside-down. Or maybe put yourself in another headstand position. I’m afraid the plot of this story is beginning to sink into a big, black hole. We’ve come a long ways, haven’t we? It all began with a love story, just as the Trojan war began when Paris abducted Helen. And then we somehow ended up here.”
Published by Spunk Goblin, an imprint of Erasurehead Press, and beautifully illustrated by Evan B. Harris throughout, The Kissing Bug must be one of the most accessible Bizarro works to date. Daniel Scott Buck was the joint winner of 3:AM‘s Novel of the Year 2006 for his satire The Greatest Show on Earth. At the time the idea of the new Juvenal was mentioned. Perhaps it’s now time consider Daniel Scott Buck as the Bizarro Aesop. Whimsical, charming and a little creeeee-py, I loved this little book.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Susan Tomaselli is a contributing editor to 3:AM and editor of Dogmatika. She lives in Dublin.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Monday, February 16th, 2009.