This book is not a graphic novel, yet is continually and beautifully illustrated throughout. Bad Habits is, at its core, a loosely autobiographical story of trying to find the most important love of all: self-love. The routes the main character, Carmenita, takes throughout the length of the novel are circumlocutious. To me, the problems Carmenita are going to face are as obvious from the first chapter as a wobbly vegetable truck sputtering along in the fast lane in an episode of CHiPs. You know that someone’s gonna cut that truck off and a watermelon’s gonna go through a windshield. It’s just a matter of time, even though the driver of the truck is puttering down the freeway unawares.
So, let’s set very basic terms with Bad Habits. Carmenita acknowledges that she’s mentally mixed up. She carries the damage of her father and unkind lovers inside of her body like a bag of knives, blades cutting through. She sets out on the long, hard search for healing. First, she changes her external conditions: moving to a new place, trying on new lovers for size, but even that ground gained seems lost in other discomfort, self-doubts, and self-hatred.
Rule number one, and I say this without judgment: drugs make people less reliable. Sure, in the short term, they can make you feel better, make people funnier, prettier, and more desirable. But, the responses Carmenita has defaulted to—either extreme partying or extreme depression—become predictable, novelistically. Textually, you can see the next hill beyond the next valley. You can see what’s coming leagues before Carmenita does. Regardless of the particular situation, in Carmenita’s life, everything is beautiful or everything is batter-dipped in shit. Cristy, the author, undeniably, has an eloquent flair for romantic and grotesque language. Yet, when drugs define a part of daily existence—as part of a novel, or in a real life—short-term eloquence almost always starts slipping into a chain of predictably bad decisions that are merely masking some deeper hurt.
No matter the situation—from toilet stall love, to a huge, self-given orgasm, to unrequited love, to a nipple almost being bit off—I kept on waiting for that CHiPs watermelon to come through the windshield. That revelatory situation where it’s, “Oh, I have to change myself to find the love I’m looking for. Something or someone else just can’t give it to me like a present.” Here’s where I insert a supposition. I have a feeling that this is closely autobiographical and Cristy is telling her own true story and there’s no fault in that, but, as a novel, it is a story without closure that is screaming for one. Reading the back cover, it states, “Our heroine learns to leave her bad habits behind and emerge stronger and more independent, clean and open to love.” But I read the entire book, and that change—the crux and resolution to this book—is not explicitly written about. It’s merely inferred in the last chapter because Carmenita’s still alive and, we assume, not doing the exact same things as “that year of malevolent heartache gripping the limbs of outstanding euphoria.” It literally jumps over where the transformation occurs. It’s the tension for a crucial resolution that had me reading until the last page, but it wasn’t even at the end. Bad Habits is a bold, honest book, but one that is incomplete. –Todd (Soft Skull Press, www.softskull.com)