For those who may not be aware, February is Women in Horror Month. And as a horror lover, I took it upon myself to read as many gruesome tales of the macabre from the brilliant minds of women as possible. During that time earlier this year, I discovered a sudden interest and weird fascination with cannibal fiction. Yes, you read that right. During the cold, romantic month of February, I read a total of four books featuring the gruesome subject of the consumption of human flesh - three of which can be found in Lawrence Public Library.
To make myself very clear, I do NOT have a fascination with eating human meat. I hate cooking and would never be able to muster up the energy (just kidding). But in all seriousness, I find the subject to be a very interesting niche as a horror sub-genre and even more so in the hands of women writers. When it comes to the horror genre, we already expect male writers to be relentlessly brutal, but women can be just as diabolical. As author Lisa Kroger stated in her book MONSTER, SHE WROTE, "Horror has been penned by men and women alike, but it's important to acknowledge that women have been contributing to the genre since its inception." So I was thrilled to have these women authors be the reason I was enraptured with cannibal characters.
But why the fascination with cannibal fiction? Well, unlike zombie fiction with its pages of mindless hordes shambling through the streets of abandoned cities in search of brains, books about cannibals put a spotlight on people very much in their right minds with a hunger for their fellow man and I personally find that far more compelling. In many cases with books about cannibalism, the reader's focus is on the human psyche and the suppressed savagery of mankind. I mean, what sociopath would eat another human being's leg without needing a full moon or brain altering virus to make him/her/them a monster? It's pretty compelling stuff! “But Christina,” you might ask, “Why are you bringing up something so grotesque in November during the season of ‘giving thanks’”? Because what better time to read books about mankind’s carnal nature than the weeks leading up to Turkey Day!
I bought myself a copy of A CERTAIN HUNGER by Chelsea G. Summers as a birthday present to myself—having read zero reviews and intrigued by its title—and I finished this book in twenty-four hours!
A CERTAIN HUNGER is about Dorothy Daniels—a witty food critic, a brilliant writer, a staunch believer in round-the-clock sex, and a cannibalistic serial killer. From prison, our protagonist is recalling to her readers her many handsome lovers and her ravenous appetite for their lust, adoration, and eventually their garlic seasoned livers.
Believe it or not, this sultry, slow-simmering mock-memoir of a woman’s craving for human flesh actually left me both disgusted and hungry at the same time! And don’t you dare judge me! If you were reading pages and pages of vivid descriptions of delectable restaurant dishes only to be thrown off guard by abrupt scenes of grisly, bloody gore...you too would be conflicted! Dorothy proved a very fascinating anti-hero who educated readers on the restaurant/ food industry while simultaneously justifying her cannibalistic tendencies.
I will warn that this isn’t an action-packed crime thriller. It’s a steadily paced story of Dorothy’s reflections on her own dark secret. However, If you love salivating over long paragraphs filled with steaming, hot plates of food, or enjoy indulging in a woman’s recollection of ravenous sex with past lovers, or are simply in this for a cannibalistic serial killer, this book might be for you and is the perfect conversation starter at the Thanksgiving dinner table .
After finishing Summer’s book, I jumped right into TENDER IS THE FLESH by Agustina Bazterrica.
Tender Is the Flesh
Unlike the former book, which had a touch of dark comedy mixed in with its social commentary on female villains, this book was bleak but powerfully delivered. In this Argentinian dystopian novel, a virus has afflicted the world’s animals, making them toxic and inedible to humans. So to compensate for the lack of protein, mankind starts to farm other humans (*shudder*). What makes this book so disturbing is people’s gradual justification for the slaughtering and consumption of their fellow man. Similarly to the horrible and inhumane conditions animals endure before arriving on our dinner tables, there are instances of abuse, brutalization, and lack of decency acted out on the humans farmed and raised to be eaten. In fact, these humans are referred to simply as “heads” in order to dehumanize what will eventually be devoured. If that doesn’t both disgust and intrigue you as a reader, I don’t know what will.
Since three is a magic number, I couldn’t possibly leave you with only two horror recommendations. So why not toss RECEPTION by Kenzie Jennings your way?
This novella is a ghastly and grotesque mess of fun (if your idea of fun is blood and gore). The story follows Ansley Boone, a young woman fresh out of rehab and hoping to keep herself in tact for her younger sister’s wedding held at an isolated resort. But something is a little off about the groom’s side of the family and the wedding reception dinner takes a turn for the worse when wedding guests learn they are on the menu.
I read this book in one sitting. The first half of the story does an excellent job of setting up family dynamics, introducing us to our protagonist’s difficult past, and developing our victims (Er...I mean characters). The second half of the book takes off like a bullet from a rifle, throwing readers into absolute chaos. And you’ll want to stick around for a crazy ending!
So there you have it, my thrill-seeking readers of the macabre! Three books centered around very special meals to keep you busy up until Turkey Day! Should you find yourself as intrigued by cannibal fiction as I was after reading these fantastic titles, here are a few more recommendations for books about humankind's hunger for their fellow man - written by women! Happy Reading!
-Christina James is a Readers' Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.