Rebecca Rowland (ed.)
Maenad Press (March 5, 2023)
Review by Elaine Pascale
American Cannibal makes twenty chronological stops along the timeline of the United States and imagines familiar events through the lens of cannibalism. These creepy history lessons have readers wondering if humans truly are “finger licking good.” All stories included are high quality, well written, and disturbing, but a few remained with me after reading:
“Carnivore” by Jeremy Megargee is as heartbreaking as it is gruesome. It focuses on the lengths a mother will go to in order to provide for her child. The story also hearkens to the idea that the act of cannibalism is not only taboo but is also a social de-evolution from civilized to feral state.
“Ozark Devil Cult Blues” by Jon Steffens: As if the Ozarks are not a chilling setting on their own, we are provided with the story of John and George, two close friends who served on opposing sides during the Civil War. The battle became personal for the men and years later it finds its gruesome resolution.
“Mastication Station” by Clint Smith: This story really grew on me. It had a slow burn and some thoughtful prose that made me want to take my time reading. For example, Smith writes, “Nature possesses a signature creativity when devising her demises, with how she crafts her cataclysms. But what had occurred at Johnstown had purely been an exhibition in the artistic incompetence of man. “ The story is set immediately after the flood, and the main character is on a heroic journey. He eventually learns that there are creative twists to the narrative of life and death.
“And the Window was Boarded Shut” by Elizabeth Massie tells the tale of Becky and her sister Bonnie who were arrested during the women’s suffrage protests. They were part of the Alice Paul group that resorted to hunger strikes to stress the importance of their cause. Unfortunately for Becky and Bonnie, their prison guard has a taste for cruelty.
“The Hungry Wives of Bleak Street,” by Gwendolyn Kiste has a memorable hook: “your family likes the taste of you.” This hook evolves into an extended metaphor for the sacrifices women are expected to make in their homes and in their neighborhoods. While the story does not include an actual historical event, it illuminates the costs associated with being the perfect 1950s housewife.
“Texas is the Reason,” by Brian Asman is a version of the powerful American political family that we all know and fear. I won’t post any spoilers but there are some great plot twists that deconstruct who is truly pulling the strings in the American government.
“Tender Farm” by CV Hunt describes a very different summer of love than the one some of us have heard about. Music is still important, as is free love, but the hippies partake in activities far more dangerous than spreading counterculture.
“When a Stranger Bites” by L. Stephenson continues in the same era by focusing on the moon landing. This story has amazing tension. The pacing and the vivid descriptions made me feel as if I were watching a Black Mirror or Twilight Zone episode. I found myself holding my breath while reading.
“Flesh Communion” by Holly Rae Garcia: I am a bit of an armchair scholar regarding cults so I really loved this story about the Branch Dravidians in Waco. It was absolutely gut wrenching. I admire that the second story in American Cannibal and the second to last play polar opposites in terms of the mother-child relationship. That relationship in “Flesh Communion” is defiled by the fundamentalist concept of the umbrella of protection.
“Y2K Feast” by Jeff Strand was a knockout ending to this compilation. We all know a doomsday prepper who is an enemy to logic. At the same time, we have all considered which family member we would eat if it came down to it (we have, right?). The dark humor in this story was the perfect denouement.
American Cannibal is another feather in the cap of editor Rebecca Rowland. It is a roller-coaster of emotions and the writing is just so, so, so, so good. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us next.