John Waters is known in the film world as the Sultan of Schlock, the ever-so-influential Pope of Trash. With his infamous acting troupe the Dreamlanders, Waters splattered filth and camp on movie screens all over America throughout his 50+ year career, giving rise to many midnight movie cults. However, in recent years, Waters has turned his attention to the lit world, publishing such works as Shock Value, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters, Role Models, and his most recent publication—Carsick: John Waters Hitchhikes Across America. The book is a heady, hilarious mix of both the real life events of the author’s ill-advised hitching trip from Baltimore to San Francisco and the outrageous best and worst case scenarios Waters’s imagined before even stepping out his front door. This list is comprised of some of the notable characters—some real, some imaginary, and some a mixture of both—that noticed Waters’s outstretched thumb and allowed him in their passenger seats.
One of the first rides Waters’s secures in his Best Case Scenario, Lucas is a demolition derby driver, his customized station wagon named “Whiplash” on the flatbed of his truck. Soon John is riding shotgun in the car crash chaos of the demolition derby, giving Lucas sexual favors amidst the insanity of twisted metal and revving engines.
Another Best Case, John is picked up in the Midwest wasteland by an ancient woman. She introduces herself as Yetta, but soon John realizes she is his old friend and film star, Edith Massey, who “died” years ago. She had faked her death to open a junk shop in Missouri, away from the pressures of show business. John is overjoyed to see his long lost friend, and this imagined reunion is a bit of genuine pathos in a book dominated by colorful caricatures and crazy scenarios. This passage humanizes Waters’s, because amid these insane stories, he sneaks in a Best Case Scenario many of us wish for—reunion with those we’ve lost.
In this Worst Case, John’s love of true crime comes back to bite him when he’s picked up by the descendants of Gertrude Baniszewski, who tortured and killed her foster child in her suburban basement. Waters’s demented captors punish him for his obsession with the case by reenacting those infamous torture sessions on him. Waters escapes, but not without having the words “I AM AN ASSHOLE AND PROUD OF IT” scratched into his chest with a homemade tattoo gun.
Yet another Bad Trip, Bristol is an animal rescuer whose car is overrun with stolen animals. What begins as deeply unsanitary turns downright disturbing when the driver starts spitting up tapeworms and orders Waters to sleep in a human-sized doghouse.
These are just a few of the insane characters one meets in the uproarious and outrageously entertaining memoir Carsick. If you like your literature gross and hilarious, you won’t be disappointed.
Lyndsey Broyles is a junior at the University of New Mexico, majoring in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. She hopes to go on to graduate school to earn an Master’s of Fine Arts in Creative Writing.