cover image The Food Chain

The Food Chain

Geoff Nicholson. Overlook Press, $21.95 (192pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-508-9

Nicholson's stateside debut, a dark parable of appetites carnal, commercial and culinary, sets him firmly in the contemporary British mode of savvy, morbid humor pioneered by compatriots like Martin Amis and Pete Davies. L.A. wunderkind restaurateur Virgil Marcel is unprepared for the display of pathological gluttony that greets him at London's shadowy, invitation-only Everlasting Club, where members have been enjoying a nonstop orgiastic banquet since the Restoration. He is still more surprised to be subsequently swept off by an omnivorous English maiden on a mystery tour--more masticatory than magical--of English foods and fetishes. Virgil's bewilderment only deepens as he gradually uncovers a generational mystery that bonds the Everlasting Club's patrician sybarites, his English mother and his American father, demiurge of the Golden Boy fastfood restaurants, in a chain of appetite where desire may literally devour its object. A deft stylist, Nicholson adroitly dodges from sex to death to dinner and back, but after an uproarious opening his ability to ring the changes on his fable of consumption fades, while the profundities with which he garnishes the menu are stale at best. Readers will likely guess the Everlasting Club's dark but heavily signposted secret long before the final course, and may consider the club symbol--Ourobouros, the worm that eats its own tail--an apt enough motif for the imaginative but overelaborate dish Nicholson serves up. (Nov.)