Author Julia Slavin switched careers in 1992 when she left New York City where she had been working as a television producer, moved to Washington, D.C., and reinvented herself as a writer of fiction. In 1999 she published her first book, a collection of stories with the unlikely title The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club. The book was well received, earning for Slavin a following among readers who appreciated her hip, quirky tales of love in the postmodern age. Those readers who have been impatiently waiting for Slavin’s second book will not be disappointed in her novel Carnivore Diet.
Slavin sets the novel in suburban Washington, D.C., in something like the present day; however, the world of Carnivore Diet is slightly askew, a surreal parallel present in which a senator holds a funeral for his amputated leg, most of the population is addicted to a tranquilizer called Solisan, the hospital is called Our Lady of Incumbency, and a dangerous beast wanders the streets. While Slavin’s factual details about the locale are accurate and realistic, there is nonetheless an aura of the magical and mythical in the writing. Indeed, it is hard definitively to label this book; part parody, part allegory, part slick comedy, and part family drama, the magically real Carnivore Diet defies classification. It is both drop-dead funny and deeply troubling, often at the same time.
The novel opens with a prologue describing the birth of the mythological creature known as the Chagawanadon, created from the pearl of a dragon and the ambition of a human. Next, the novel moves to a narration from the point of view of Dylan Dunleavy, a fourteen-year-old on the brink of puberty whose incipient voice change will quickly end his career as the voice of the United States’ most-watched cartoon character, Harlan, a “post apocalyptic rodent of questionable phylum.” Ironically, Harlan’s life is more secure and happier than is the life of Dylan Dunleavy. Dylan has much to worry him: His father, a congressman from Canton, Ohio, is serving a term in a federal prison for bribery. His mother, Wendy, is addicted to tranquilizers. He is being terrorized by a former voice of Harlan, Billy, who now serves as his driver. As if all of this is not enough, bodies have been found in Ruth Bay, Dylan’s neighborhood, their torsos missing, their faces fixed in expressions of abject terror.
Sitting on the front porch with his head in his mother’s lap, Dylan first spies the chagwa: the beast has “black eyes the size of softballs, the two sides of his face not even vaguely similar, gashes of stripes on one side, bludgeons of spots on the other, a nose triangular on one side, smashed on the other. . . . He was bigger and more horrible than I could have imagined, a five-hundred pound knife with paws.” Oddly, although the beast approaches closely enough to take Dylan’s hand in its mouth, Wendy does not notice him.
Wendy, who narrates the next section of the novel, has her own set of problems. With the imprisonment of her husband, Matt, she finds it difficult to find the money to provide food for herself and Dylan. She finds it even more difficult to keep herself supplied with tranquilizers made necessary by the terror she endures because of the chagwa’s fascination with her son. Her gynecologist will only supply prescriptions if she participates in demonstrations for animal rights and women’s issues. In addition, her lover Peter Allingham has renounced their affair, choosing to commit to the reality television show Colonial World with his wife. He goes to live in a settlement that replicates colonial Jamestown, complete with a war with Indians. As Peter explains to Wendy, “At first we got along. Then they began to resent us. They burned down the commons two weeks ago and now we’re on full-alert, twenty-four hour watch. . . . Who can blame them? Gold Street cancels Indian Territory after five...
(The entire section is 1624 words.)