Review: Clown Gravy

By Nadia Bruce-Rawlings

Misti Rainwater-Lites gives us something to think about with her collection of short stories, Clown Gravy. Much of it a stream-of-consciousness litany of society’s ills and foibles, the thirteen stories give a look at the world through a lens of black humor. Really the absurdity of this world is Rainwater-Lites’ focus, and she covers it well. Her characters are real, dirty and gritty. Her setting, Southern Texas and Oklahoma, enhances the stories and the characters with sweat and middle-American and middle-class angst.
My favorite of her characters, Jammo, he of the titular Clown Gravy, appears in a couple of the stories (“Clown Gravy” and “Bacon”). He’s a likable black circus clown who has no other aspirations but to make balloon animals and entertain the kids. Women love him…in “Bacon” we hear from the love of his life as she mourns his untimely death, sadly foretold by a fortune teller in “Clown Gravy.”  He doesn’t believe her…”Maybe she wants to seduce me, too. Hell. Why not? Everyone wants that clown gravy on their lollipop.” I like Jammo - he’s funny, and he’s caring in his own way.
Rainwater-Lites carries us through the hot South while focusing on the reality of pop-culture and its craziness. In “American Meow,” our protagonist identifies as a cat. He likes anonymous sex and sour apple wine coolers. He says:
“This is what I hate about being an American. I hate how we are media saturated and obese. You’ll pry those Fox News babbling iPhones and Ding Dongs from our cold dead hands. We burn witches and other outcasts (I am speaking in metaphors, please forgive me) and crown the hollow heads of the facile and the socially adept. Kardashian Nation. We like our guns. We like our cops. We like our fast foreign cars. We like our cheaply made porn. We like our Disney Pixar movies. We like our unfunny sitcoms. We like our morally bankrupt soap operas. We like our idiot chatter talk shows. We like our airbrushed celebrities. We like our meaningless bar trivia. We like our war machine. We like our propaganda.”
Now, don’t expect a story collection in the traditional sense. While I suppose technically these are all short stories, I consider some of them more poetry-prose, if there is such a thing. As I mentioned, much of the author’s writing is stream-of-consciousness, flowing from one idea to the next in short staccato phrases. I personally like her style very much, but if you’re a stickler for grammar this may not be for you. Take “American Racism 101” ....exactly what it sounds like, a disturbing look at our racist country, told in a stream of phrases that drive the point home.
Rainwater-Lites’ words also work to drive home the absolute absurdity of this American life and our obsessions. Her story “American Soap Opera” is interrupted by this:
Soap isn’t enough, girlfriend. You’ve got to insert that plastic nozzle on a regular ass basis. During your period. After sex. After an invigorating vibrator session. Before sex. Treat your man or who the hell ever to some strawberry yogurt! You don’t want to lose your boo thang to a donut shop chick, do you?
Good God, why are Americans so obsessed with douching? This made me laugh, as did most of the stories. Sometimes an uncomfortable laugh, I’ll admit. It’s hard to look at ourselves so critically and vulnerably. But Clown Gravy is worth every moment of reflection.