John Waters with his trademarked mustache
The cult film director and author John Waters has a new book out, Carsick, which is an entirely trashy and often hilarious account of two imagined--and one real--hitchhiking adventure from his home in Baltimore, Maryland, to his west coast home in San Francisco.
Walters is best known for the Broadway musical Hairspray, which was later made into a big budget film starring John Travolta, Christopher Walken, and other recognizable Hollywood stars.
It's necessary to mention how bankable and ostensibly mainstream Waters has become because he hasn't always been invited to the head table. Waters' early movies present exaggerated characters in outrageous situations that became cult classics but were never released for general distribution. Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living, which he labeled the Trash Trilogy, pushed hard at the boundaries of conventional propriety and movie censorship.
The novel slash travelogue pushes the literary envelop in entirely expected ways; after all, Water's is one of pop culture's most outrageously individualistic players and we expect to be shocked. In Carsick, Waters describes three cross-continental car trips. Each of the trips begins on the front steps of his Baltimore home and ends near his home on San Francisco Bay. Between A and Z, Waters hitches rides from an astonishing range of America's weirdest, loopiest, scariest, and most generous citizens.
Like all good road trip stories, Carsick begins with an imagined account of the best possible travel adventure; the people he rides with are friendly, happy, and are always helpful, sometimes in spectacular ways. Imagine, for instance, getting picked up by Connie Francis and singing duets with her across the Nevada desert. Or, having one of your rides give you $5,000,000 to make a film you've always wanted to make.
Waters follows his imagined "happy trails" adventure with a horrific tale of the worst trip in history: he is arrested, kidnapped by drunken terrorists, and violated in ways that only confirmed Waters' fans can imagine. If you want to warn loved ones away from hitchhiking have them read the middle section of the book.
The best and worst trips--which in Carsick replicates how most of us imagine prospective trips--is followed by the actual trip that the elderly and entirely hypersensitive Waters takes. And, like most real life travel, it describes long stretches of boredom interspersed with stories of random acts of kindness and the good natures of most of the people we chance to meet.
Carsick is light summer reading and only for readers familiar with Water's body of work and point of view. For these fans, the book is entertaining, lighthearted, campy, and wickedly funny. Soon, no doubt, to be a very minor motion picture.