Read This: American Cannibal
American Cannibal, a new anthology edited by the talented Rebecca Rowland, sets itself the challenge of offering up twenty different versions of a foregone conclusion. It succeeds.
Ranging across the nation’s history, the stories in American Cannibal trace the cost of the United States’ conquest and growth–both physically and culturally. Some of the cannibalism described here is purely for survival. Some is obsession. Some is metaphor for sweeping societal forces. Some is unrepentant splatterpunk, and some is so subtle it is only a suggestion.
It’s a fascinating concept, fantastically executed.
“The Lost Diary” by Candace Nola–a believable end to the Roanoke colony.
“Carnivore” by Jeremy Megargee–a fever dream of motherly duty and savage childhood.
“Gold Rush” by V. Castro–a western frontier peopled by consumers and the consumed.
“Ozark Devil Cult Blues” by Jon Steffens–a former Confederate leader finds a new way to use people.
“Wendigo Dreams” by Owl Goingback–the mythical demon finishes the destruction of an indigenous man. One of my favorites.
“Mastication Station” by Clint Smith– the devastating Johnstown flood exposes the all-consuming hunger of capitalism.
“And the Window Was Boarded Shut” by Elizabeth Massie–the punitive suffering of suffragettes, and what one woman is driven to do. Another favorite.
“The Flannigan Cure” by EV Knight–Prohibition drives an addict to a worse thing than drinking. Possibly the most unnerving story here.
“Papa’s Night (or The Short, Happy Life of Elena de Hoyos)” by Douglas Ford–a heady mix of Hemingway and a bizarre true story. Another favorite.
“The Hungry Wives of Bleak Street” by Gwendolyn Kiste–Mid-century conformity and internal rebellion, told with the same haunting feel as “The Swimmer”.
“Texas is the Reason” by Brian Asman–brutal political machinations with the Kennedy assassination at their center. Another favorite.
“Tender Farm” by C.V. Hunt–the Age of Aquarius urban legend of hippies, hallucinogens, and infant sacrifice.
“When a Stranger Bites” by L. Stephenson–the moon landing has a strange effect in a small town.
“All Ears” by Clay McLeod Chapman–an evocative, sad description of another casualty of the Viet Nam war.
“Seasons Out of Time” by Jeffrey Ford–a wild ride through the worst of the 1970s. Fun and snarky and another favorite.
“Let’s Hear It for the Boy” by Bridgett Nelson–the self-righteous horrors of the early days of the AIDS pandemic.
“Go at Throttle Up” by Ronald Malfi–a haunting story of unhealthy connections set against the impact of the Challenger explosion. Another favorite.
“Tiki Bar at the Edge of Forever” by Daniel Braum–sad, dreamy, and beautifully written story of change and loss. Yes, another favorite.
“Flesh Communion” by Holly Rae Garcia–what might have happened at the Branch Davidian compound before the end.
“Y2K Feast” by Jeff Strand–a snarky take on a doomsday prepper and the family that doesn’t buy in the way he planned.
Despite it’s obvious thematic requirement, American Cannibal manages to be full of surprises. While many of the interpretations are pure, bloody horror, only loosely connected to time and place, others are oblique and deeply thoughtful. There is also far more humor here than I expected, and a great deal more subtlety to the act of stripping away the civilizing skin than any hungry cannibal should have.
I recommend it highly.