cover image Mother for Dinner

Mother for Dinner

Shalom Auslander. Riverhead, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59463-372-0

Auslander (Hope: A Tragedy) turns his taboo-shattering satiric gaze to cannibalism in this outrageous, salty take on contemporary culture. Seventh Seltzer is a New York City book editor weary of sorting through submissions for the “Not-So-Great Something-American Novel” and their increasingly niche subjects (e.g., “Gender-Neutral-Albino-Lebanese-Eritrean-American”). Seventh is particularly attuned to the “shackles” of identity, having been raised in the persecuted Cannibal-American (“Can-Am”) community, which ritualistically consumed its dead. He is the seventh of a dozen surviving children of a monstrous matriarch, Mudd, a bigoted force of nature determined to restore her diminished people to prominence. When she dies, however, many of her children have long since given up cannibalism. Yet, promised a hefty inheritance on the condition that the rite is performed, Seventh and his bickering siblings unite to tackle the grisly task. The bilious narrative trips along its grotesque way, treating readers to the picaresque history of Can-Am immigrants from an unspecified “Old Country.” While Auslander harps a bit more than necessary on the alternately constricting and comforting “boxes” of identity, and Seventh’s misanthropic epiphany about human nature is a tad facile, more effective is the riotous dissection of cultural formation and a community’s hunger for meaning. Auslander soars in enough places to make this worth the price of admission. (Sept.)