I meant to cobble this together along with some other books I’ve been reading the last few days into one review.
But I couldn’t with this one. From the first few pages, I knew it would grab me. And it had the energy to carry to the end.
I’m a gracious grader when it comes to reviews. I don’t mind that. A four star book for me is a good book. A three star one is a good book with nebulous flaws. I don’t give out one star books because I don’t believe in rating a book if you don’t finish it and life’s too short to read bad books.
I try to parse out five star reads as much as I can. A five star generally has to hold me from start to finish, has to execute its concept as close to flawlessly as possible (or if it’s non-fic, has to bullrush its narrative in my brain). I try to be picky but I also want to respect writers who reach what I consider to be greatness, even if its just shreds of greatness.
This book makes me feel silly for giving anything a 5-star review. After Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, this is probably the best fiction I’ve read in the last 5-10 years.
And on the surface, it’s not a book that would appeal to me: food critic who is also a cannibalistic serial killer. I don’t care that it’s a literary take. Serial killers are so boring. What’s left to explore after Silence of the Lambs?
The hook here is that this is a female serial killer and that the exploration of it is compared to a femme version of American Psycho. Ok, let’s try.
Wow. How the hell did this book take so long to sell?
The American Psycho comparison is somewhat apt, only it’s kind of a mirror image and not just in gender. American Psycho was about cultural emptiness. A Certain Hunger is about the need to consume. Consuming food, consuming bodies. The vulgarity of slaughtering, processing, and eating meat. The violent misogyny of how women’s bodies are packaged for consumption. Through it all is a clear eyed deconstruction of taking two grotesque things that have some adjacency in patriarchal lens and enmeshing them to create a Hell of a tale. Literally.
Summers makes the smart decision not to go linear with the story and I think that’s for the better. The framing device is Dorothy writing a memoir from prison and choosing to parcel out the story as she sees fit. This allows Summers to explore a wide variety of tales that help us understand the psyche of our killer and the world that made her.
And while there are plenty of vivid descriptions of murder, Summers also throws in vivid descriptions of meat processing as a sort of hypocritical rider to the story. We don’t want to know how the sausage is made, we just want it on our plates. But Dorothy is fascinated with the how, and she will examine it in brutal detail. And as they say: that’s where the devil is.
I could write several hundred more words on this one but I’ll just say that this is far and away the best fiction I read in 2021. I’d recommend it to anyone with a strong stomach.