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Review by Sheila Merritt
In an alternate (or future) world called Abyrne, clergy and commerce combine to create a society of culturally controlled cannibalism. A group labeled “The Chosen” is literally “cowed” into submission as food for those who can afford to buy meat. Joseph D’Lacey’s cautionary tale of society losing its humanity, echoes aspects of the film “Soylent Green,” and literary works such as “The Lottery” and The Island of Doctor Moreau.
In a reversal of the procedure of Dr. Moreau, people are surgically altered into animals. They become livestock; some bulls, some females for milking, but most become a food source. The church reinforces such practices as a means of having control over the community. In the words of The Father in the scriptures of the society’s religion: “Thou shalt eat the flesh of my children. My children are your cattle. Break their bodies as your daily bread, take their blood as your wine.”
The church’s rhetoric rationalizes its actions to continue its hold over the populace. The religion has an uneasy alliance with the economic/commercial purveyor of the meat. Both factions want to retain their power, and work in tenuous tandem to maintain what they view as cultural stability. Magnus, who heads the meat company, is a tyrant who gets aroused by subjugation and humiliation. He is dangerously mercurial: “There was a constant tension in his face and the tendons of his neck, a barely contained urge to leap forwards, to be first out of the blocks, to hammer someone with his fists, to place a kiss or clap a shoulder. No one could predict what the tension implied, only that it implied action.”
In images evocative of The Holocaust, the story gives an ironic take on humans being taken in “cattle cars” to their slaughter. D’Lacey’s compassion for his fictional victims is interspersed with horrific scenes graphically describing the details of their treatment: “He saw mutilation. Skin punctured. Skulls breached. Blood wasted on floors and steel tabletops. The decisive thunk of cleavers through joints.”
Meat is not a book for all tastes. The story could use some trimming, and there is a didactic side to it. Over all, however, the novel is a rare piece of horror fiction; thought provoking, and well done.