Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander (2020)

L: 6.5/10

M: 7/10

J: 5.5/10

Analysis from a time traveler out of minutes:

Without a slurry of puns, it will be hard to review the next book, Shalom Auslander’s Mother for Dinner. I’ll start right away. It’s all in bad taste and a hard multi-course meal to swallow. It’s about America’s last remaining cannibal family, or Can-Am as they are preferred, and their struggle to send off the patriarch of thier family in a traditional way. It’s all tongue and cheek as the awkward ceremonial goodbye unfolds, all while we are pulled back and forth through the history of why this is all happening.

The Can-Am community has been around for generations, or maybe it hasn’t, and there is some gravity in the absurdity; it’s never really made clear. It’s easy to see a better conclusion to this story, with dear old mom, Mudd, just being full of shit rather than whoppers for her all her children to consume. There are bread crumbs all along the way that really made me think Mudd was just insane and the family tradition, now upheld by the stern and probably bat-shit crazy Unclish, was all just a cruel series of delusions dropped down from generation to generation. Ah, but no, this story, in the end, is told as truth, and in the end, what transcends is, in fact, the final moments of a long line of cannibals.

The story is told through the eyes of Seventh Seltzer, the middle child in a string of a dozen boys (and one girl who is referred to as zero). They are all named after thier numerical order out of Mudd’s womb and together add up to the saving hope of the Can-Am line. One by one, though, they failed to live up to Mudd’s impossible standards, making her consumption in which the final ritual is upheld a very uneasy and inconvenient one. Seventh, ashamed of his heritage to the point of secrecy with his wife and children, is the one who turns in favor of tradition and helps keep a cool head on the very real circumstances of eating thier mom. It also helps that thier childhood home’s market value is held over thier heads, and the potential payout is dependent on thier participation.

Shalom Auslander is funny; there is little question to that. Some of the funniest bits were the quick retorts of characters, especially the hypothetical back and forth between Can-Am Elders. I pictured them as Greek mythological beings, lounging on clouds in the sky but eating thier loved ones instead of grapes. It’s a real double-edged sword for me, though, because the humor is in such bad taste that it started to annoy. I’m in no way possible of being offended, yet I found the relentless racist and homophobic “zingers” like the cutting room floor of a Daniel Tosh stand-up special. It’s so relentless that it passes by rounding out the terrible character of Mudd and reaches uncomfortable territory. Uncomfortable for who? I don’t know; this is a story about normalizing cannibalism, after all. The tone and brevity of the dark subject matter are comparable to Palahniuk, as well as the exhausting way long-running bits are deployed. By this point, I’m surprised that Chuck hasn’t covered cannibalism already.

Mother for Dinner is fun and easy to digest. I was hoping for more in terms of a last-hour hail mary twist that would really nail down the absurdity. Instead, it just sort of fizzles out like a piece of bacon left out to cool. The pacing between two simultaneous stories, the current and the history of the Seltzers, fight for attention in a story that needed a little fat trimmed from the sides. This would be a funny book to stick in one of my little neighborhood library boxes on my street, but it fits well on the bookshelf and is something that is easily recommendable.

Analysis from a rusted over trophy wife:

Okay, so this book is not going to make it into my top five, but I didn’t hate it. I needed a palate cleanser after our last few heavy reads, and this book seemed appealing. I will argue with some of the reviews referring to it as hilarious, but there were a few amusing parts.

I certainly have never been invested in or aware of the Can-Am community, so this, hopefully, made-up world was nice to explore. The very thought of consuming a dead loved one seems insanely intimate in all the wrong ways, so my interest in their plight was seen through a veil of disgust. However, there were some difficult family dynamics that I think every reader could probably connect with in one way or another. Parenting is difficult, and being parented has its challenges as well, but this family brings toxic to a level I’ve not quite seen.

I wouldn’t mind giving this author another go as the writing flowed well, and the character development kept me interested and invested. While I am not certain that we share the same sense of humor, I can tell you that his approach, the grotesque is milder than most, and for that, I am almost grateful.

Analysis from a bag of charcoal so easily dismissed by a gas grill user:

When I think of a cannibal, I imagine someone who kills for sport and eats flesh with a fervor that I would find rather distasteful. Oddly enough, this book proposes a much more intimate, almost appropriate, protocol for devouring others. That perspective was interesting to consider.

Apart from the critics finding it beguiling when it was amusing at best, I was incredibly frustrated with what I would consider being common courtesy in this make-believe (or is it?!) system of ideology. Why would a person eat garbage, growing to a massive unhealthy size, in hopes of living on through and nourishing their kin? If this was the legacy I was leaving behind, I would want to nurture health in those that consumed me. Why, knowing the time-sensitive nature of the rituals, would there not be more preparations ahead of time? My goodness, they didn’t even know where the knife was, and their copy of the Guide was porn. And, apparently, setting up a protocol for transportation and grilling is unheard of. Coupled with the questionably fantastical origins of the entire doctrine, I had a hard time believing anyone would perform the practices.

In short, this was a quick read that left me relieved at my family dynamics and never wanting to eat a Whopper again.

Shalom Auslander

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