Kate’s Review: “We Eat Our Own”

27276249Book: “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson

Publishing Info: Scribner, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: An ambitious debut novel by an original young writer, We Eat Our Own blurs the lines between life and art with the story of a film director’s unthinkable experiment in the Amazon.

When a nameless, struggling actor in 1970s New York gets the call that an enigmatic director wants him for an art film set in the Amazon, he doesn’t hesitate: he flies to South America, no questions asked. He quickly realizes he’s made a mistake. He’s replacing another actor who quit after seeing the script—a script the director now claims doesn’t exist. The movie is over budget. The production team seems headed for a breakdown. The air is so wet that the celluloid film disintegrates.

But what the actor doesn’t realize is that the greatest threat might be the town itself, and the mysterious shadow economy that powers this remote jungle outpost. Entrepreneurial Americans, international drug traffickers, and M-19 guerillas are all fighting for South America’s future—and the groups aren’t as distinct as you might think. The actor thought this would be a role that would change his life. Now he’s worried if he’ll survive it.

Inspired by a true story from the annals of 1970s Italian horror film, and told in dazzlingly precise prose, We Eat Our Own is a resounding literary debut, a thrilling journey behind the scenes of a shocking film and a thoughtful commentary on violence and its repercussions.

Review: Has anyone out there heard of the movie “Cannibal Holocaust”? Let me give you a quick rundown of this movie and it’s notoriety. And I mean NOTORIETY. So “Cannibal Holocaust” is one of the first ‘found footage’ horror movies. It is about a group of people who go into the Amazonian rainforest to make a documentary about indigenous cannibal tribes, but then disappear. Their footage is found by a professor and the canisters contain many, many horrors including animal cruelty, arson, rape, and murder. When this movie was released, the director, Ruggero Deodato, told the main actors, largely unknown, to lay low for about a year so as to continue the illusion that they did actually disappear and meet terrible fates in the jungle. Which worked too well, as Deodato was arrested and charged with making a snuff film. The actors did come out of obscurity to clear him, but still. Yikes. So what is MY experience with this infamous horror movie? As a huge and avid horror fan, I wanted to show how edgy and hardcore I was and watched that movie a couple years ago. And let me say,  an hour and a half of gratuitous violence and multiple graphic rape scenes isn’t the best way to spend a day off, especially if you are feverish.

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I take it back, I’m neither edgy nor hardcore (source)

I was absolutely disgusted and repulsed by this movie. BUT, when my mother sent me an email about a new book called “We Eat Our Own”, it sounded very familiar. It sounded like the behind the scenes malarkey that went on during the filming of “Cannibal Holocaust”, but in the form of a horror novel. Okay, FINE, as much as that movie made me sick to my stomach, this premise had me TOTALLY SOLD!!!! A horror novel about the production of a “Cannibal Holocaust”-esque film? This clearly is going to be totally screwy and nasty and kind of fun and over the top, right?!

Well, not totally. Kea Wilson’s “We Eat Our Own” is very much based on the filming of “Cannibal Holocaust”, but it’s written in so many interesting ways that it felt less like a horror novel and more like an experimental literary one. For one thing, there are no quotation marks around the dialog, nor are there always indents when a new person is talking. But the most glaring experiment is that whenever the chapter is about the Unnamed American Actor, who is referred to by his character’s name (Richard), it is written in the second person (“You get a call from your agent, you go to pack your bags” etc), giving us an immersive experience for about half of the content of the book. While at first I thought that a second person perspective would limit the reader, Wilson worked around it by saying “you know this, but what you don’t know is that…”, and then tell us about the other characters in the scene or what’s going to happen to “Richard” in the future. I will admit that at first it was hard for me to wrap my mind around these devices. After all, I was kind of expecting a straight forward horror novel about a doomed production team (why I assumed everyone would actually die when that is not what happened in it’s real life inspiration, I couldn’t tell you). Instead I got a writing experiment that touched on more than just what was happening to the production team. I’m not ashamed to admit that it took me a little bit of time to really get into this book because of this style, but once I figured it out I actually really liked it, especially the parts where it would say “what you don’t know is that this extra is going to be running away and escaping her circumstances…”, because it found a really great way to learn more about these other characters without compromising the device.

The other chapters that aren’t “Richard’s”/the reader’s POV focus on other characters involved in the circumstances, be they that of crew members, the other actors, or the locals who are dealing with their own violent circumstances. Wilson takes the time to address not only the quagmire that is happening in the jungle at the time, but also the tenuous political situation that is simmering in Colombia. While an Italian filmmaker and his predominantly Western crew are trying to make a movie about cannibalistic and stereotypical tribal violence, there is unrest in the town that they are in, as a group of M-19 guerrillas are starting to boil over with tension, as they have a kidnapped Venezuelan attaché in their custody and are trying to plan an attack. An American who has set up shop in town has hooked them up with a cartel, and now things are on the brink of an explosion of violence. While it was great to see an acknowledgment of the ills going on in Colombia at the time, some of which were the result of remnants of Western colonialism and the drug trade that fueled Western noses at the time, these were the parts of the story that were the hardest for me to get into. The writing style is jumpy and at times haphazard enough, so to jump completely from one storyline to another was harder for me to follow. That being said, Wilson did a great job of showing how all of these characters are connected, and masterfully weaved them all together. There were times that we would get the conclusions to some storylines of other chapters through the eyes of another chapter and the character that it was following, which I really liked. It was also really biting to show an Italian filmmaker and his crew making a movie that perpetuates a brutal and dangerous stereotype about a group of people in Colombia (specifically the Yąnomamö), only to find themselves in a violent situation that has been built up by Western greed and entitlement.

Thinking about this book more and really dissecting it, I quite enjoyed “We Eat Our Own”. Don’t go in thinking that it’s your run of the mill horror novel. It’s definitely more complex than I expected it to be, and I think that Kea Wilson is definitely an author that I am going to be on the look out for as time goes on.

Rating 8: A complex and twisty exploration of both politics and a filmmaker’s obsession, “We Eat Our Own” is a compelling work of literary horror, and a love letter to one of horror’s most infamous movies.

Reader’s Advisory:

So the two Goodreads lists that “We Eat Our Own” is on are very broad and vague and have nothing to do with the story itself. That said, I think that it is quite reminiscent to “A Brief History of Seven Killings” by Marlon James in tone and political message, and I also think that the list “Amazon Rainforest” might have similar themed books on it.

Find “We Eat Our Own” at your library using WorldCat!

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