Book Review

+ TNT Δ: We Eat Our Own

It’s time to rip into more fiction with The Naked Truth, a Naked Lunch-inspired review where I take the “kid gloves” off and critique a finished novel as if it showed up in our writer’s group.

This month I started reading Killing Gravity by Corey J. White, but skimmed it after the first few chapters—the book is essentially the anime Akira, only set in space (also, I wondered if the author was secretly Bill O’Reilly and he’d moved on from killing presidents to forces of nature). I then tackled Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, but my skill level in necromancy isn’t quite high enough to understand what he’s doing with this elaborate graveyard dance, and I abandoned it mid-way. Fortunately, the brain-porridge was just right with Kea Wilson’s We Eat Our Own, a delicious tale about cannibalization and the film industry.

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I’ll preface this review by stating that I don’t normally read or watch anything related to the horror genre (though I did watch The Babadook, dook dook dook). Still, Wilson captured me with this book. It is a shining example of “literary horror” and written with a sizzling hand. Summarized in a single sentence, this novel is a speculative account on what it would have been like to be on the set of Cannibal Holocaust, an Italian horror film done on location in the jungles of Columbia in the 1970’s—a flick whose terror was executed with such precision that it was accused of being a snuff film. Let’s jump into the review with the positives:

+ The jungle as a character

Wilson does a fantastic job reminding you that the jungle wants to kill you on every page. The true horror isn’t the movie’s savagery or the coked-up guerrilla fighters, but the oppressive flies, sucking mud, and terrifying howls of the unseen night creatures.

+ Conflict

In part because of the heat and the malaria, the hatred everyone feels for one another in this story is like a slow-burning fire, occasionally popping and flicking a hot ember right onto a sensitive patch of skin. This is conflict that touches all the senses, and the author gets the fire burning at just the right temperature.

+ Unique POV with Richard

Part of this book is written in second-person, which most of us usually hate, but Wilson does a superb job balancing it out with the rest of the prose. The American actor, who is referred to only as “Richard” until the end of the book, is so disoriented (as many actors must be), that he no longer thinks of himself as “I”, but as “you”, and the author really nails the ambiguity prevalent in the minds of those who disassociate themselves so that they’re able to become “other people” for an audience’s entertainment.

 

The changes I’d recommend for this work are very minor nit-picks. This book is powerful, and I’d be willing to bet that the author/editors noticed these and decided not to change them for publishing reasons (or whatever):

Δ Pacing drags at times

Wilson does everything to keep up the pace of this book, yet I still set it down for a few days because I got a bit bored. She jumps between characters in the right rhythm, but I think including a few more characters would have quickened it up. For example, the “Indian extras” in the movie are mentioned very minimally—the maid at the hotel stands out as the exception—but I would have liked to have seen how they felt about their role in the film. For example, after eating raw bacon stylized as a human corpse while in a fetid animal pit, how did they spend the evening? These are the people who were the most exploited in the making of the film, and they also get minimal mention in the book…what a coincidence.

Δ The climax felt off — (spoiler alert)

After reading about the horrible things that happen during the movie for most of the book, we finally get to the real climax: a real-life murder. The author did the best job she could with the set-up, but—sorry—it still felt contrived. Maybe I was too desensitized after all that prose about cannibalism, and maybe that was her point, in the end. But it still didn’t feel organic. Maybe murder never can?

Δ Another shrine to violence

This isn’t a critique on the book, or even the movie, per se, but on reality. Will we ever overcome our fascination with violence? In the novel I’m currently writing, a lot of people get killed. Why? Because the audience demands it. Action! Adventure! Corpses!

What primordial strand of DNA entwines us so that we feel compelled to watch others suffer, and hence, add to our own suffering? Cannibal Holocaust is a movie I’d never watch—about as weird as I’m willing to go is The Holy Mountain—but why do so many people find delight in horror movies in general? Are they the kind of people who have experienced real trauma, or do they just like to pretend? Either way, the fact that so many of our fictional works revolve around murder makes me feel both disgust and shame for our entire species.

Overall, would I recommend We Eat Our Own? Yes.

Read the book instead of watching the pseudo-snuff film.

This book is compelling, a rare find. Read it, if you aren’t scared of a little taboo. And to the author, I’ll say the same thing to you in regard to how I like my humans cooked:

Well done.

– Jess


© 2017 Jess Flarity 
Books reviewed: We Eat Our Own © 2017 Kea Wilson, Scribner (hardcover, 320 pages)

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