Of Flesh and Hunger:
The Ultimate Review
I Hope You're Hungry
Im feeling very hungry without questioning it. Then, realizing the hungers source, I feel disgusted and physically nauseous. Looks like Of Flesh and Hunger: Tales of the Ultimate Taboo is more than just a clever title. In writing this review I read, re-read and studied this text. In doing so I mostly succeeded in damaging my psyche and becoming more mentally disturbed than before. While reviewing, I was forced many times to pause, look away from the text and run my fingers through my hair with a sigh, or even get up and take a walk to clear my mind.
Now I knew what I was getting into. I understood that this is a compendium of stories about humans eating humans. Like many other forms of artistic expression, I initially wondered if it was possible to create numerous derivations of this singular theme and, at the same time, keep the whole unique and interesting. That artistic hurdle, I wrongly assumed, would be even greater, considering the evil and perverse interest of these stories. The writers who took part in this sick endeavor did so with gusto and excitement and not one of them thought twice about creating scenes so vivid that I would never be the same after reading them. Still, the wicked subject matter generally did not detract from the style of the pieces. Possibly that blame lies with editor John Edward Lawson: he's the one who cooked up this wild idea and then did the hours and weeks of legwork to put the thing together. Mr. Lawson is well known for his innate ability to network, but how he found so many sick individuals with writing talent willing to have a go at stories -- especially those involving blood and gore of the nastiest type -- is far beyond me.
Care for an Appetizer?
The e-book begins with an Introduction, a short poem by Christopher Danaher about an odd 12-step program for cannibals. This is a great opening piece because its format and tone ease the reader into this sea of despair and death, like an anesthetic which slowly takes over your metabolism and then .
BAM! A train conductor runs over an innocent bystander in Paul G. Tremblays The Harlequin and the Train. Even more to his dismay, the corpse is then eaten by cannibals who lay in wait for such an event. This exposes an underground of people who feast on carcasses hit by trains. The conductor himself is at first deeply shaken, then eventually sucked into their world. This is a mid/long piece. It works well in the overall order because it doesnt rush right into the flesh feasting of later stories. The reader is presented with plenty of backstory prior to focusing on the dirty deed itself. In the mean time there is plenty of interesting characterization to mull over as you almost forget what this e-book is about
Daniel G. Keohanes effort uses a sci-fi/future setting; a space ship commune where orders come from a computer that controls the ship and all other aspects of life. Through a process known as 'Selection' (the storys namesake) the computer decides where the people should work, and also who to eat, as they aimlessly search for a planet called IS-98. Some are chosen daily to work in 'processing', to kill and butcher the next to be eaten. The 'system' also runs a psychological check of sorts to be sure there is a general lack of emotion towards other crewmates. In this way, they can kill each other without remorse. A later twist involving an intelligent child who figures out how to reprogram the computer poses a serious moral question involving survival, cannibalism and family.
The Purest Hearts Make the Best Stew
'Purity by Matthew Shute likewise stresses those very same three elements. This story was not my favorite but it certainly elicited a huge response from me. It is a wretched story entailing events that epitomize fear, such as drowning in the dark of an underground cavern. Just reading this story evoked feelings of claustrophobia, a problem I have never before been afflicted with. I felt my mind roll into the fetal position and anticipate death. This is true psychological terror. In this tale, a man tries to find the road to spiritual purity by forcing his family to live in a cave. The elements of cannibalism are only introduced as an afterthought. (He would have hunted deer or some other animal, but there were these two rednecks walking by and )
The fear displayed by this insane persons family will be evoked in yourself as you entertain thoughts of being as trapped as they are. Conversely, at times you sympathize with the captor, as he genuinely tries to learn to live off the land, even if that includes murdering people and filleting their corpses. This theme is an oasis in a way that can only be compared to the thrill of watching Rambo, MacGyver or the A-Team. I always loved when those famous characters used to build the most practical and well-engineered stuff out of the junk they had to make do with. The reader will be sickened to find himself eagerly awaiting this lunatics next lesson in survival; although the remainder of the story is tainted and morally bereft. Oddly enough, the majority of the story is told as a flashback as the man reminisces about better times, specifically when he first came to the cave. Elements of sexual perversion are heavy; I am frightened only more by the authors twisted mind that generated this insanity. Unfortunately, in the last sentence, the irony of the final twist is displayed with an almost heavy-handedness or silliness that I felt could have been done without, as it kills the extremely serious and fear inspiring tale which preceded it.
A Nice Family Dinner
Another story with themes of sexual assault (upon living OR dead bodies) is written by Jeffery Thomas. It tells the tale of an East Indian girl who kills her half-sister and cannibalizes her body. Incest themes abound. The tone is slightly erotic in the introduction to the killing and also during the cannibalism itself. It is this combination of sex and flesh eating that permeates the anthology and haunts the reader after he finishes.
The strongest elements of incest can be found in Perry McGees story, one of the most potent in the e-book. Babys in the Garden is downright disgusting and Im shocked at its bluntness. The content hit me in the face, then I was soothed by its occasional specific descriptions and characterizations of objects that snake within its paragraphs. A youngster kills dogs and then moves onto other small children, and butchers them in his makeshift abattoir above the garage. Much time is devoted to the psychedelic effects the raw flesh intoxicates him with. On yet another level of complex storytelling, Joey is mentally connected with his mother, who condones his behavior. Turns out theyre more than mentally connected as elements of incest almost inexplicably reveal themselves. The story climaxes in a final upheaval full of terrible imagery and death served as the ultimate justice to those who deserve it.
Acquiring a Taste
As we move into the middle portion of the book, we are presented with a group of stories unviewable by timid and, sometimes, even moderately jaded readers. First is a longer story with the most outright violence so far R. Allen Leiders An Acquired Taste. Wanting to get her man a special gift, a woman buys silverware previously owned by Alistair Crowley. As if that alone would not make for enough future bad times for the receiver of said gift, it is acknowledged that they have been used for cannibalism in the past. After handling the defiled fork and knife, she becomes obsessed with eating raw meat while trying to stifle her enormous hunger for flesh. After giving her boyfriend the gift in the middle of a classy restaurant, she gets a bit wrapped up in the silverwares subtle charms. In a last second twist, another innocent character meditates ignorantly on making a similar decision to toy with the silverware's power. Probably a bad idea. The concluding elements of irony and comedy prove relieving following the presentation of bloody and uncontrolled violence.
If the previous story was the most graphically violent, this is the most mentally violent. I can only liken this tale to Requiem for a Dream: an emotionally crushing piece which at first (at times even on later viewings/readings) seems to exist only to serve that purpose. Of course I am referring to editor John Edward Lawsons Tap That Ass. I was checking my watch, looking away, consciously letting my mind wander; anything other than focus on the horrid events in this story.
The main character is into torture of the sexual and most deviant type. Within the first couple pages, you are already rooting for him to die. It goes beyond stories about cannibalism on a humorous or interesting level. This is sadistic and fucking sick. The story is intercut with the police investigation and their advances towards finding Ryder, the sick bastard behind these dastardly crimes. But it became an annoyance; like viewing a car wreck, and I only wanted to return to the sick world of Ryder. This story takes its title literally (figure that one out!) and focuses on blood drinking not actual cannibalism. Ryders dwelling is a true house of horrors, containing many horrific torture chambers. His mistake proves to be his internship of a potential victim with whom he mixes pleasure and business. This sexually tinged torture is very strongly illustrated and not for the vivid of imagination. Lawsons ability to paint these pictures in the minds eye of the more imaginative reader could possibly prove fatal.
Apocalypse Fictions Scott C. Carr provides another rancid addition. Rather than inducing the gag reflex as would sniffing rotting garbage, reading his words will make you cringe as though you inadvertently got too close a look at a fresh piece of roadkill. This story starts by richly describing the main characters nervous habits of nail biting and picking at scabs and sores, then trying to justify it to the thoroughly disgusted reader. The natural reflex and its causes remain as a common thread throughout the story. Even the Gatorade I sipped while reading disgusted me as this story began to seem as terrible as some of the flesh and blood scenes from previous tales. The main character eventually is able to push his nail-biting fetish into the anthologies' recurring theme of incest. As I do bite my nails and cuticles myself, I began to question my own ways. I felt especially disgusted; I had done so not 10 minutes before reading the story. Thank you Scott Carr, for forcing me to read the story on another level, one where my own mannerisms and habits were successfully conditioned as extremely perverse. Now I can live forever with the thought that I too am a cannibal. The storys climax shocked me even more, as the author somehow combines the almost unrelated elements of nail biting, online shopping/eBay and parenticide.
What's Your Favorite Flavor?
Ronal Damien Malis The Stranger is certainly my favorite story. A couple takes a road trip, frequenting cheap hotels on the way and bringing along their relationship issues as baggage. This story has a pulp/film-noir feel, especially in the description of the hotel lounge, complete with piano man and card-playing hustlers. The mans unease around his significant other had me quite uncomfortable as I was sucked into their personal drama, albeit one devoid of flesh eating. Im really glad this story was saved for later in the e-book. As I read it, I began to dread the sentence where they would start eating human flesh, or when the good guys turn and start eating people. The advent of cannibalism in this story is unique amongst others as far as style (of actual flesh eating), and also in the way that the element is introduced. Even after the fact, the emphasis is placed upon main characters David and Rhoda and their damaged bond. Somehow, this use of cannibalism is intended to tell the story of their life together by means of some twisted and weird analogy all the while presenting the reader with horrific gore. The length of the piece, its use of humor and irony in its conclusion, the accessibility of the characters as well as their plights made this my favorite story. I would imagine it appeared as one of the strongest to the editor as well, considering its placement as last (before the Epilogue).
I was immediately excited to see Larry R. Lamonts piece co-written with Eraserhead Press writer Vincent W. Sakowski. The bulk of the text is spent as back story, intermingled with what I saw as cheap pornography. The electrical meter man was certainly going to be cannibalized as his ignorant and innocent personality was so clearly defined, like the hot blonde in a horror B-movie. He ends up dying in a bit of an unrealistic way but in a final twist, the writers acknowledge the predictability of the story and poke fun at the genre, themselves, and much more. A very intelligent story, clearly written by smart, experienced writers and best explained by its title: This is Not That Story. Very impressive. It took much gall for editor John Lawson to put his name on a collection of stories which shall certainly prove to cause a moral uproar, at the very least. It took even more gall to include this piece, one which is almost the antithesis of the more straightforward, horror stories with which it is grouped.
Another collaborative effort, another Eraserhead Press writer: M.F. Korn with Dave Matthew. I was excited to read this story for those two reasons; even more so after reading the 3-way collaborative effort with these two authors and Hertzan Chimera from the June/July 2002 issue of The Dream People. For short fiction, a startling number of characters are introduced in rapid-fire succession, even as previous characters places in the story are explained and justified, all leading to the local sausage maker. It ends with a vicious twist of violence against a trusted friend, similar to 'Tap that Ass'
Hot & Spicy
A small hick town that revolves around the local slaughterhouse. A huge holiday held once a yeara BBQ where they roast whole pigs. Sound like your hometown of Nowhereville, Texas? But do you have/hire a local worker to kill hitchhikers and stuff the foul, butchered remains into pigs? No, this town is certainly a bit off kilter, and this is Papa Bos Big Ass Barbecue by Darren Speegle. Do these townsfolk think theyre eating pork? Is this a cover up by the local authorities, or is the whole town in on it? These questions are answered a bit unclearly, if at all, but this comes not as a detriment to the story, but as evidence of an extremely intriguing tale which leaves some things to be figured out by the reader or never figured out at all.
How ironic: the setting for this one is a war in Iraq. Realistic and excellent war genre writing alongside added elements of fantasy/mysticism are the strong points of The Devils Playground by Kurt Newton. Captured American soldiers experience a spiritual awakening at the hands of Rictor the ruler of an underground society who leads his local Cult of the Magi. It contains an unforeseen trick ending that brings the main character full circle. This story is very light on cannibalism which is nice, although (as this story is introduced) the superb editing of this e-book has not yet tossed us into the fray with the serious and graphic cannibalism to come. Further evidence of the subtle attention to pacing by the editor.
The next starts out with a simple breakfast that progresses into sex and cannibalism, both alluding to the other, neither concretely real. This storys prose is extremely well done and typical of the author in style and quality. It is also typical of the quality of writing at Eraserhead Press, which it should be since this is Hertzan Chimera I am referring to.
Tulips by Earl Javorsky. Again, not outright cannibalism. In a futuristic invention, a dead persons pheromones can be infused into a tulip, which can then, in the case of your dead wife, give you a blowjob. The action throughout is intercut with copy from the instruction manual to this odd device/plant. A young stoner smokes one of the leaves (his dead mother) and sees her full form come alive and command him to bring her food lots of food eventually escalating to live meat beyond. The ending is too weird for words. Our young weed (and tulip/mother) smoking teen seems to have intoxicated his brain to a level similar to the author's. I wonder if only a chemically-induced vision could spark the writing of this wild story. Very hard even to explain or summarize, it must be experienced first hand.
The Epilogue is more a description of Hell than an example of cannibalism, although human flesh eating does make an appearance in Michael A. Arnzens short piece, as it rightfully should and would in Hades as well. A short story which makes a great way to round out the e-book, this piece is strong but could have stood nowhere else amongst the overall order. Another testament to good editing.
Care for Desert?
The order of the stories, especially in a large anthology, is crucial to maintaining reader interest. Good material can quickly go to waste if the flow and pacing is flawed, or if the stories and their contrast/similarity of theme against chronological order is disregarded. In 'Flesh and Hunger', excellent editorial skills have circumvented those issues and kept the level of writing to a professional standard. The copy is free of apparent errors. The undertaking of an anthology of this size, electronic or print, is massive and out of the reach of most. Making a commitment to finding the writers, regardless of quality of submission, is difficultconsidering the obscure and shunned subject matter of cannibalism. This topic material and the zest with which it is delivered to the reader reveals to me that there is an underground of cannibal authors much like the tribe described in Tremblays first story. A group waiting in shadows for an opportunity to ravage fresh blood, whether thats moral limits and capacity for suffering in a jaded reviewer like me, or the pure flesh of a 13-year old boys thigh muscle.
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