Beautiful Ape Girl Baby Blog Tour: Heather Fowler shares an excerpt from her new novel

Today I’m thrilled to be hosting a leg of Heather Fowler’s Beautiful Ape Girl Baby blog tour here on Lectito! Heather has kindly agreed to share an excerpt from her forthcoming novel, Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, along with footnotes explaining a little about her thought process when she crafted this particular passage. I’d like to extend a big welcome to Heather and an equally big thank you to Melanie Page over at Grab the Lapels for inviting Lectito to be part of the tour!

Heather Fowler is the author of over 300 short stories, a collaborative book of poems, and many other creative projects. Her first novel, Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, is now available for pre-order!

Meet Heather!
Meet Heather!

Heather, over to you!

In this passage, the novel’s seventeen-year-old, super strong protagonist, Beautiful Ape Girl Baby Chef, has just clocked a hired driver named Thomas in the back of the head since he would not brake while driving through a large migration of Monarch butterflies. She has taken over driving the black car her rich father provided to transport her across the country. Here, she contemplates how to explain to Thomas, as soon as he comes to, why punching him in the head was so absolutely necessary. Included are footnotes explaining what I reflected upon while writing this passage.

Novel Excerpt:

…Beautiful’s thought was to find some kind of gas station or shop where she could purchase ice for the back of his head. How to convince him a stunning blow had come from the rear, unaffiliated with her, was another concern.

At home, she wouldn’t have bothered with such deception, but now, needing him as she did, it was possible that the times warranted eliciting less of his ire in order to get her to her mentor’s house without incarceration. “I could say,” Beautiful decided ten minutes later, staring out at the passing land and mindful of those little speed limit signs, “that a luggage flew up from the back, with your rapid braking, Thomas, so you were hit. And then I wanted to drive you to the hospital, but concluded you’d be fine with ice applied to the back of your head—and besides I had no clue where a nearby hospital was, so I kept driving.” The problem was that no piece of luggage would match a fist sized, rear cranial impact. Also, what if he remembered he hadn’t been braking? [1]

“I could buy a hard object,” Beautiful then conjectured, “from the next place I stop, put it in the car, somewhere he can see it, maybe right beside him, and say, ‘It flew from my satchel, Thomas, really. The butterflies were upon us, the orange cloud of slaughter you caused, or the sky caused, or the season caused—and then this strange object flew forward and conked you on the head, this one right here, and then you were out!” She paused in thought, adding, “Because I was in the backseat and we were, unmanned, if you will, driverless, I delicately pulled the wheel to the side. I had to. And surely then I leaned over and moved you, though obviously took no liberties, Thomas. You know I don’t desire you in that way, but, also, it was absolutely necessary. To pull over after, switch spots, and check on your well-being. So I checked on you and then started driving toward Ida’s” [2].

Explanations irritated. She could not be too sure what level of minimalism would fit. What would be believable, yet sparse enough to incite no further questions? But this was not home and there were scant resources on the road. “It must be like those people who have little money! Or little help! I’m learning to be resourceful and make-do!” Beautiful said, feeling much like those women she read about whose silk stockings were limited and thus they’d drawn pencil lines up the back of their legs to compensate, though she’d never quite thought those lines would feel anything like silk. “Still, these resources must be preserved,” she said. “I shall have to rise to this challenge. Yes, this challenge is arduous, but I shall rise—and why? Because I am Beautiful Ape Girl Baby Chef, a winner! And Thomas is a good driver. While I’m not. How I hate driving! Yet we must continue” [3].

Despite her past enjoyment of a few limited tours behind the wheel, she still found the whole driving effort intrusive to her growth and self-reflection, which was, she internally affirmed, the purpose of this trip [4]. Thus, she could develop new skills of reasoning and persevering in order to make Thomas doubt that she’d harmed him on purpose. That, or she could call her father and tell him she’d clocked Thomas in the back of the head, which would be simpler, but then there was the issue of finding a replacement driver and waiting for his or her arrival, plus her father’s likely anger and disappointment, not to mention Thomas’s undeniable and admirable quality of blending, of silence, of an extreme lack of charm, which might be replaced by a personage more talkative whom Beautiful then wanted to punch in the head without the excuse of an accidental butterfly slaughter in progress, and such a person would distract her further from the goal of reviewing Ida May Haze’s Strong as Animal Woman Show philosophies before she got to Ida, which Beautiful must do before the exchange to come because being prepared was important. She had to keep Thomas [5].

“So the plan is,” Beautiful said, as if solidifying her intent by verbalizing, “I buy a fist sized object and plant it in the backseat. A snow globe? A desert cache can? A jar of Vaseline? Not heavy enough… A small bottle of detergent? Yes. I buy a bottle of detergent, plant it in the backseat, and then buy ice and probably some kind of towel to put the ice in so it doesn’t jolt him into fresh shock when cold water starts running down his neck, another towel so as not to ruin my clothes for the rest of the ice, and then I tell him about the flying object, the one I’ll then point to, that will have knocked him out.”

She examined how he slumped since her last attempt at propping him up. Slobber fell from his lips. “It just plain knocked you out,” she practiced telling him, also adding one of the friends’ expressions common to accident explanation, which was a pout, a sad look of mysterious intent that implied both sadness, partial repentance, and confusion.

She practiced the look in the rear-view, but it made her laugh. Pout? Beautiful Ape Girl Baby Chef did not pout! Because she did not repent! Peals of laughter left her in a better mood. But she needed to work harder at appearing to repent, so she tried a pout again, as if she meant it, then spoke the planned speech again, but was thrown into more fits of terrible giggles throughout, which also involved some unladylike snorting her mother abhorred [6].

I am sure, she thought, that I must try not to find this story funny when I make these announcements to Thomas, but the harder she tried to practice fibbing with a straight face, the more she laughed, as if laughter had an inverse relationship with desired severity.

“It’s the pout,” she mused. “I can’t pout. It’s causing more laughter. And hives. And joy tears! This is a lot of effort to appease one silly monkey in my father’s employ!”

Yet it cheered her. Beautiful pulled over for just a moment to regard Thomas’s white mustache. How much she wanted to pull it, just yank it a little. It was so thick and pale, she was nearly certain she could pull it out in clumps, like dandelion spores.

She could pull it lightly, just once, to wake him, but she knew she wouldn’t have the control to do it nicely since she’d wanted to do it for so long. Yes, she’d plan to do it nicely, but she could predict that what she’d do instead would be to start pulling gently and then yank really hard and laugh. She chuckled again, saying, “And then, Thomas, something fist-sized came up and hit you in the lip. I don’t know what!” [7].

In this moment, even his monkey suit, his black, slick as a heavy, bodyguard suit struck her as somewhat ludicrous. “Thomas,” she said affectionately, with speech not uncharitable due to the fact that he couldn’t hear her, “You couldn’t guard an old woman from a six year old child, or a six year old child from her lollipop, or a lollipop from a bee. It’s a good thing you’re only a driver and not a bodyguard” [8].



[1] I am terrible at making excuses, which is why I always tell the truth. This scene was really fun to imagine since it shows the effortful and somewhat ludicrous nature of straying from direct modes of discourse.

[2] Here I reflected on that moment when you want to conclude an explanation, but you keep adding details since you haven’t yet provided a good enough rationale. Beautiful, the character, is easily distracted, and verbose. I thought about how I knew that about her character, but also how fun it is to watch a train-wreck exchange, which this is—the idea of an exchange—where at any given moment, someone passed out can wake up and overhear something highly inappropriate.

[3] One thing that always cracks me up is motivational thinking put to application, particularly by a person with incredible invisible privilege. “Just Do It,” means different things for different social classes, for example. Since my mother’s been into positive-thinking, and affirmation-making since my childhood, I really enjoyed lovingly poking fun at self-empowerment narratives. That’s where the pencil and stocking issue came in. Beautiful’s spoiled, but she still wants her ideas and path to be accessible, meaningful, even if she’s never really had the opportunity to struggle. Still, maybe this passage playfully points out the ways that “struggle” is 100% relative.

[4] Sometimes I hate driving for this very reason.

[5] That feeling when you meet someone altogether unlike you, with a non-compatible personality, but something about them is really soothing. As I wrote this part, I thought of how amazing it always feels to me when I can get to know quiet people—amazing that they like me and mysterious as to why. I knew someone like Thomas once, whom I came to care about a great deal. I felt I had to keep him, but I could not, eventually, so maybe this passage relives that moment—the discovery of needing to keep someone.

[6] Really, pouting? Who does that?! I was thinking of a guy I knew who thinks it’s sexy when women pout. With this passage, I tried to understand what was so great about the expression, especially if it wasn’t done with self-mockery. Maybe I just saw Beautiful, any strong woman really, as a woman who only felt it possible to pout if her pout were clearly ironic. A caricature of real life emotion. Porn videos made for adult men—or over-acted children’s television shows where children appear grotesque—are predominantly where we see female characters pouting, and either way it’s not appealing. A man who wants to see women pout generally strikes me as a ludicrous man, one who wants a dumb woman, or a man with a certain level of misogyny.

[7] That moment when you let the passage go way over the top, but something within it creates a replicating hilarity—so even tiny lines are cracking you up. Here, I just flowed with what amused me and didn’t relent. The sense I had while writing this part was like one I felt while reading Bernard Malamud’s story “The Jewbird” about a talking bird and a mean landlord. Malamud’s passage went: “‘Look,’ said Cohen, pointing to his bloody nose swollen three times its normal size, ‘what that sonofabitchy bird did.’” After I read that line, I kept rereading different bits of Malamud’s dialogue and marveling, recurrently reacting with peals of laughter about to the phrase “sonofabitchy bird,” but that phrase was so apt for both characterization and tone it became a trigger for examining how Malamud made humor and music with language. I was similarly charmed by the turns in the dialogue Beautiful imagines having with Thomas as I reread this scene. Plus, I liked Beautiful seeng Thomas’s mustache as dandelion spores—as if she could rip the hair off his face and make wishes.

[8] I excerpted this short passage here, right before the scene gets more combative because I liked the idea of including a part of the book that displays how the intricacies of Beautiful’s bond with Thomas begins: with a punch to the head. Isn’t it interesting how only when the veneer of polite conversation is stripped, sometimes, can the real relationship begin?

I liked, too, how Beautiful describes Thomas as wearing a monkey suit—which means not something of the natural world, in this case, but the outfit of the unnatural world required to sustain employment. In many places in this text, playing with the double consciousness of words and their meanings was something I enjoyed doing to give the reader his/her own moments of double consciousness. I admired how Ralph Ellison employed this strategy in Invisible Man and wanted to employ it.

Again, a big thank you to Heather for sharing her work and thoughts here on Lectito. Heather will also be stopping by some other fabulous blogs this week, so to learn more about Heather and her new novel, Beautiful Ape Girl Baby, head on over to Grab the Lapels and take a peek at the blog tour schedule. 

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