Review: Mother for Dinner, by Shalom Auslander
Hi, Internet friends! Wow, it's been a hot minute, hasn't it?
Anyway, I'll start things off by saying - what in the fuck have I just read?
Very basically - this is the story of a family of twelve siblings (eleven brothers, one sister) whose mother has just died, told through the point of view of the seventh son, helpfully named Seventh. The mother is a frankly terrible human being (her children call her Mudd, which tells you all you really need to know), and when she dies right at the start of the novel, her final wish is for her children to eat her. Because that is the tradition of their people, the Cannibal-Americans.
This book is quite obviously satire, but I couldn't quite tell what it was satirising - at first I thought it was making fun of liberal notions of how one identity can't be all encompassing and you're allowed to be many things at once (as a proud dual national, I do tend to agree with that line globally), but then it also started making fun of bigotry and conservatism of religious and political ideals, as well as restrictive notions of identity. So, basically, I think Shalom Auslander doesn't think anything is sacred, and he takes dead aim at a lot of things (from some very brief Googling, Auslander was raised Orthodox Jewish - which explains why the explorations of religious and cultural identities being at odds with political identities felt a lot more vulnerable and authentic than some of the other lampooning going on).
So, why am I recommending this book, do you ask? Because it's funny. Once you accept the completely bonkers wild premise, and just lean into it, it's hilarious. Auslander is an expert satirist, who never pushes anything beyond the line of when it stops being funny and would start being mean. He also does a really good job of bringing the story to a conclusion, so that the narrative arc of Seventh felt satisfactory. Even though it's more character-driven than plot driven, the way Seventh grapples with his conflicting feelings about his history and his culture and whether he should carry it forward was compelling. It basically functions as a satirical family saga, which is a genre that a lot more authors should explore (always assuming they've got the skill and heft of an Auslander, which they probably don't all have. He walks a very, very thin line and manages to land the plane successfully, which is a feat).
So, yes, go forth and read this book - but read it for the ride. It won't make sense, you'll find it profoundly weird, and that won't change as you read it. But you probably will laugh. And then we can discuss it and see if we can figure anything out. Which I guess is what life is? Maybe that was his point?