A previously unpublished novel of the reflections of a deeply scarred and reclusive woman, from the cult icon Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love.
Sally Gunnar has withdrawn from the world. She spends her days alone at home, reading drugstore mysteries, polishing the doorknobs, waxing the floors. Her only companions are a vase of goldfish, a garden toad, and the door-to-door salesman who sells her cleaning supplies once a month. She broods over her deepest regrets: her blighted romances with self-important men, her lifelong struggle to feel at home in her own body, and her wayward early twenties, when she was a fish out of water among a group of eccentric, privileged young people at a liberal arts college. There was Sam, an unabashed collector of other people’s stories; Carlotta, a troubled free spirit; and Rennel, a self-obsessed philosophy student. Self-deprecating and sardonic, Sally recounts their misadventures, up to the tragedy that tore them apart.
Colorful, crass, and profound, Toad is Katherine Dunn’s ode to her time as a student at Reed College in the late 1960s. It is filled with the same mordant observations about the darkest aspects of human nature that made Geek Love a cult classic and Dunn a misfit hero. Daring and bizarre, Toad demonstrates her genius for black humor and her ecstatic celebration of the grotesque. Fifty-some years after it was written, Toad is a timely story about the ravages of womanhood and a powerful addition to the canon of feminist fiction.
Dunn (1945–2016) leaves readers a throwback to the 1960s counterculture scene in this pungent precursor to her 1989 National Book Award finalist Geek Love. Sally Gunnar, middle-aged and living alone with her goldfish, reminisces about her student days spent on the periphery of the cool kid scene at a small liberal arts college in the northwest. She relives moments steeped in magic mushroom dust and unwashed bodies with her friend Sam, who rarely goes to class and never follows the rules. She looks with disgust, not on his filthy student digs or the horsemeat he serves, but on his circle of friends as they party and pose. She is filled with rage at their inauthenticity and the way they seem to themselves not exist unless someone is looking—except Sam. And then Carlotta appears. She and Sam move to a farm, then to Montana, and eventually tragedy strikes. Sally goes through a string of lovers, slits her wrists, and breaks the law with a violent act, all in an attempt at some kind of self-realization. The story has moments of hilarity, its raw prose fresh with unpretty evocations of stale rooms and bad poetry. It amounts to a sobering look at the reality of what one's glory days actually entailed, shot through with the unmistakable undertow of pain and self-loathing.