This is a novel about a guy from Pittsburgh who eats his friends (ice-climbing trip, downed plane, survival situation). The protagonist, Travis Sebastian Eliot, is rescued from his ordeal, returns famous but still just an ordinary slacker/barfly, and then things start to get weird. I was going to say that the book is awesome though it suffers from some of the usual bad-editing flaws of books brought out by small presses, but close examination of my copy reveals no publisher’s imprint. I think Hungry, by Daniel Parme is self-published, which makes it even more awesome. It’s my favorite book found this year at AWP.
What is so awesome about eating your friends, you ask?
What I liked about Hungry was that it slowly clicked through the dial of what this metaphor could mean. The first stop was that cannibalism brought fame—the opening scenes are a morbid satire of the media and celebrity culture. Won’t we celebrate anyone for anything? Haven’t all famous people at one point eaten their friends? But it moves on to sex and to power, to the idea that eating people brings vitality, defeats death. Travis feels like life is lacking after his adventure and becomes impotent, until being seduced by a group of cannibals who trick him into eating human flesh again. Here he is accidentally consuming his first box of human take-out:
So I ate it. Devoured it actually. One, I was starving, and fainting hadn’t helped. And two, it may have been the best meal I’d ever eaten. The potatoes, well, they were good, but still just potatoes. But the green beans were amazing—crisp and juicy and with just the right amount of garlic. As good as the beans were though, they couldn’t hold a candle to the meat. I’m talking tender, juicy, succulent bite of Heaven, here.
The cannibalism solves the limp-dick problem. Some interesting passages follow on the power and enjoyment that comes from consuming others. (The cannibal group, naturally, are all rich finance guys and lawyers.) Travis, however, finds almost a spiritual enjoyment in the attraction of eating flesh, though he resists doing it, mostly. He gets a j0b in morgue, where he becomes obsessed with the dead bodies…yes, he wants to eat them, though not the skinny ones. Some of the book’s best-written scenes are set here (one senses that Parme did some research in looking at dead bodies) and Travis’s thinking, while admittedly totally fucked-up, is interesting, almost tender. Here he is looking at a dead woman:
She was done. Everything building up inside her, everything ready to explode—it all just stopped. All that power that had taken years nearing the surface, it was all trapped. She could never let it out. She was a false alarm, and I felt sorry for her. Or, more accurately, I felt sorry for all the stuff she’d never be able to let out.
Travis longs to eat this corpse and others to get some of that power, though like a good liberal boy with a conscience, he resists.
None of the action is particularly plausible, but the sketchy plot didn’t bother me too much since the heart of the book was its strange, punk-rock premise that found life in death and breathed desire into very weird configurations.
The prose was casual, funny, and fun to read, too, though could really have used a slash-and-burn on all the excess verbiage and the thing about this or the thing about that. There are ways to write tight prose that still captures a conversational tone, but without an editor Parme didn’t get there.
“The thing about being stranded in the mountains is that you have no one to talk to, so you talk to anything.”
“The thing about having a whole lot of sex is it’s not enough. Never enough.”
Repetitions everywhere! But overall, a really fun book. Eat your friends, kids, or just read about it!