Love Among the Cannibals Summary
by Wright Morris

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Love Among the Cannibals Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Set entirely in the present and written exclusively using first-person narration, Love Among the Cannibals represents a refreshing comedic departure from the haunting multivoiced fiction characteristic of other Morris novels such as The Huge Season, The Field of Vision, and Ceremony in Lone Tree. One of the most readable and humorous novels in the Morris canon, this book was written and conceived more rapidly than any of his other works.

The story begins in 1950’s Hollywood and features two men—Earl Horter, who composes lyrics for jukebox songs, and his piano-playing partner, Irwin K. Macgregor, referred to variously as a “first-class slob” and “second-class song writer.” Both men are wayward World War II veterans who meet in California to work on a musical. While in the process of writing a number of songs and hanging out on the beach, the two pick up a couple of younger women and take them on a journey to Acapulco. The first is described as a “conventional” southern “chick,” Miss Billie Harcum, who by the end of the story becomes Mac’s dime-store bride. Eva, the second girl, is simply referred to as “the Greek.” Like her biblical antecedent, Eve, Eva exudes an aura of mysterious, primitive sexuality, and she lures Horter into a brief and intense love affair that ends when she decides to drop him in favor of an aging professor of marine biology, Dr. Leggett.

In its essence, the book describes a love quest. However, instead of employing the overworked boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl pattern of popular 1950’s Hollywood plots, Morris uses Love Among the Cannibals as a vehicle for examining the consequences of breaking traditional boundaries and conventions, particularly sexual ones. Symbolically, this is figured through the border between California and Mexico. Once Horter and Mac cross it, their lives are propelled into a more primitive environment that forces them to exchange the coverings of their materialistic, cliché-ridden American identities for something that is ultimately more fleshy and vibrant. Similar to the fire-red convertible with green leather upholstery and built-in record player that is dismantled by the local natives after the car is abandoned on a remote Acapulco road, Horter and Mac are stripped by their experience with Billie and the Eva to the bedrock essentials of living in the immediate present.

For Earl in particular, this transformation brings him face-to-face with a life essence embodied in the Greek that, like Mexico, is “constantly in the process of becoming something else.” Like a cannibal, he feeds on the energy she emits, hoping that he can in some way pierce through the earthly trappings of his unearthly desires. What she leaves him with is something far more significant than dreams of casual sex on a moonlight beach—a striking recognition of what essential love consists, “flesh feeding on flesh.”

Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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