A review of

Carnivore Diet

by Julia Slavin

Central question: Can a bloodthirsty monster called a “chagwa” restore meaning to our post-9/11 dystopia?
Format: 288 pp, cloth; Size: 5-1/2" x 8-1/4"; Price: $23.95; Publisher: W. W. Norton; Editor: Jill Bialosky; Production manager: Anna Oler; In-terior designer: Lovedog Studio; Typeface: Janson; Jacket designer: Georgia Liebman; Number of explicit references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer in novel: one; Number of implicit references: ten; Slavin is also the author of a collection of stories called: The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club; Representative sentence: “We fixed up our homes, renewed old connections, then remembered why we’d broken those connections, and ended them again.”

Carnivore Diet, the first novel by Julia Slavin, takes place in a world in which post-apocalyptic disasters coexist in bland equipoise with everyday banalities like barbecues and marital infidelity. The carnivore of the title is a monster called a “chagwa,” which settles in the backyard of a typically untypical family—the son, Dylan, is a washed-up child actor, the ex-congressman father is in prison, and the mother, Wendy, is a pill addict. The chagwa stalks Dylan, kills almost everyone in sight, and yet somehow stays ineffable and cute.

Though Carnivore Diet is chock full of slapstick—the characters keep hurrying around on fruitless errands; at one point, Dylan steals a pony, then returns it—there is almost no real plot. At no time do characters make choices under pressure and struggle to live on with the consequences, and the story doesn’t progress so much as gather up futilities. Wendy is failed by countless men: her husband, her doctor, her lover, and a swarthy, Clintonesque man of mystery named Ben Sotterberg, who seduces and dumps her. Medicine fails her, politics fail her, a stint in an asylum fails her, and, in a bit of insouciant political incorrectness, vegetarianism fails her. Many of her scenes take place in rooms with lavish buffets: Even luxury porn fails her. Failure is inscribed into this world where connections are impossible.

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—Adam Novy

Adam Novy teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he received his M.F.A. in 1998. His work has been published in Verse, Bridge, Quarterly West, and American Letters and Commentary.

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