The Most Beautiful Rot
By Ocean Capewell, February 2014
221 pg. at 8 1/4” x 5 1/2”
$12.95 from the author
It’s exciting that so many writers of zines are writing books! So often, and I’m sure you’ve felt this too, I’ll come to the end of a zine, even one so thick its staples can barely hold it together, and wish greedily for more. So, I’m always excited about books by zinesters, because it’s like a zine! but that just keeps going! But also, and more importantly, it’s exciting to see the kinds of stories that are told in zines be told in books.
I don’t want to support a hierarchy that puts books above zines, or works published by publishing houses above self-published works, but that doesn’t mean it’s not exciting and validating to see a zinester’s name on the cover of a thick, glossy book, and to read books about angry young queers, abuse survivors, genderqueer folks, dumpster divers, and scrappy weirdos who could be plucked from the pages of your own life.
I wrote about an issue of Ocean Capewell’s zine High on Burning Photographs here, so I already knew when I picked this book up that she is a talented writer with a gift for talking about difficult things with grace and ardour.
I read this book almost in one sitting, curled up in bed on a gray Sunday morning, drinking coffee. The characters drew me in right away, and stayed with me after I’d burned through the book (still, despite what I said above, wishing for more).
The novel is told from the points of view of four women who live together in a run-down house in a gentrifying neighbourhood. The story begins with a newcomer who called the number on a flyer reading: “Roommate wanted for queer-positive, fat-positive, pro-sassiness house on the west side of town. Cheap rent. NO DUDEBROS PLEASE”. As each character tells her story, we learn about some of the things she’s lived through and what the house means to her.
In one passage I liked, early in the book, the narrator writes that her family of origin
"didn’t understand that I was superhuman, that trash could make me grow. They didn’t understand that I built my own family; that I found them in little scraps and put them together to make something beautiful. They were not there to see us, drunk at two a.m. on wine and pie, dancing in the kitchen; smashing old TVs at the dump; telling the hardest stories and then getting into gleeful rotting tomato fights. They would have wondered how we could live with the stains on our walls. But the stains made me remember that night. They made me proud that we all had so much passion fermenting inside of us that it bubbled over; that there was no other way to show it but to take a tomato and hurl. The splatter, the soft juice, the satisfying thud."
The Most Beautiful Rot is about survival and the ties that bind: the stories we tell and the stories we don’t, about the dirty dishes and the compost piles and always, always, the kale.
Capewell writes compellingly about love and solidarity and small victories, but without romanticizing her protagonists’ lives. This is not that coffee-table book of punk house photography with an introduction by Thurston Moore (link is only provided to prove that I am not making this up). This isn’t a manic pixie dream girl story of redemption; the characters fight to keep themselves and one another alive, but the problems they face aren’t ones that can be solved by sass and a can-do attitude.
Without giving too much away, please note that some of things the characters in this book are surviving include childhood sexual abuse, drug and alchohol problems, terminal illness, friends’ deaths, and suicide. Which is to say, this book probably definitely talks about something awful you or someone you love has been through, does so beautifully and wrenchingly, and will make you remember all that you have survived and are surviving.
This book is so awesome! I finished it in two days and really had a serious case of the “I want to know what happens, but at the same time don’t want to finish this book”. Highly recommended.