Archive for April, 2015

LitReactor review of Confessions of a Carnivore

April 27, 2015

Bookshots: ‘Confessions of a Carnivore’ by Diane Lefer



Bookshots: ‘Confessions of a Carnivore’ by Diane Lefer

Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review

Title: Confessions of a Carnivore

Who wrote it?

Diane Lefer, a playwright, activist and author of ‘Nobody Wakes Up Pretty’ and ‘California Transit’ (awarded the Mary McCarthy Prize, Sarabande Books, 2007).

Plot in a Box:

In the lead up to the second Iraq war, retired high school teacher Rae, now a volunteer at the LA Zoo, spends hours observing baboons, chimpanzees, gibbons and various other primates, but spends her free time driving around with her best friend Jennie, drinking margaritas from a flask. Feeling she’s closest to her cat, Molly, Rae drifts, not feeling anything. After a near miss on the freeway, she and Jennie join a theatrical activist group protesting the treatment of animals. In the paranoia of the period after 9/11, a pregnant Jennie disappears, presumably taken by the authorities for possible terrorist activity. Meanwhile the only person who can possibly clear Jennie has become involved in a religious cult fixated on clean colons.

The only person who can clear her friend has become involved in a religious cult fixated on clean colons.

Invent a new title for this book: I would call it: The Mating Rituals of Drill Baboons Humans [Fetzer has a strikethrough over Drill Baboons. I couldn’t make that come out in this post]

Read this if you liked:

I had trouble deciding on one book. It’s sort of The World According to Garp crossed with Vonnegut’s Hocus Pocus.

Meet the book’s lead: Rae is a 50 year old retired teacher with suppressed feelings toward anything but her cat. Like many at a mid-life point, she seems to be drifting, falling into situations and wondering how she got there — and always looking for some focus, be it a lover, purpose, or job. Her ex-husband’s an alcoholic and in jail, her best friend has disappeared and she’s not sure how to find her again.

Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by: Kristen Wiig

Setting: would you want to live there? LA in the heat and smog — not my idea of a good time.

What was your favorite sentence? I was arrested once, in 1968. I waited for Des the first time he went to jail. But now? Getting busted was, to use Devon’s turn of phrase, so over.

The Verdict: To start with, I wasn’t sure how this was going to pan out: the narrative feels like a series of snapshots and reminiscences told in no particular order and was confusing at first. That said, I soon had a handle on the characters and there is a thread tying the various vignettes together, mainly through the person of Rae, a retired teacher now observing the sexual behavior of primates at the zoo.

It soon becomes apparent after she joins Gorilla Theater with her best friend Jennie that the observations of primate sex parallels the relationships of the humans she comes into contact with. Through the theater group, she and Jennie meet new people and Rae meets the father of Devon from the group; David works at a lab with primates, but not observing, doing experiments on them to better understand how they relate to us. Between protest performances, marches, visits to a cult called the “Neo-proctologists” and a local Native American reservation, the book covers a lot of ground, both physically and metaphorically, and spends a lot of time talking about George W. Bush and the actions of the US — and within the US — in the wake of the attacks on the Twin Towers.

This book walks a fine line between preaching/informing the reader about how scary things are in the US for average citizens and telling a story; but it must have worked for me, as I wanted to know what happens at the end. The adventures of Rae and the descriptions of how the various primates behave made for a compelling read and I will be looking for her back catalog.

Animal Rites, an essay review from Talented Reader

April 23, 2015

Wow! George Ovitt of my favorite litblog, Talented Reader, reviews Confessions of a Carnivore along with The Bleeding of the Stone by Ibrahim al-Koni. Really an essay review in which he has a lot to stay about animal consciousness and our relations with animals–while citing Kant, Hume, Montesquieu and more. The New York Review of Books should hire him. Now.

The blog usually covers literature in translation that I wouldn’t know about at all if not for Ovitt and fellow blogger Peter Adam Nash. So click and read about my book, and then subscribe if you care about literature.

If you’re as tired of looking at my cover as I am, here, instead, is a photo of Ibrahim al-Koni.


First review of Confessions of a Carnivore

April 20, 2015

When you admire someone’s fiction and his politics, it can be nerve-wracking to know he’s going to review your novel. So I can only breathe a sigh of grateful relief and say thank you to JJ Amaworo Wilson.

Confessions of a Carnivore – by Diane Lefer

Posted on April 16, 2015 by JJ Wilson


Wow. Diane Lefer’s new novel is one wild ride. With all the animals involved, I mean that literally. She somehow mixes activism, alcoholism, protest theater, cat-love, animal observation in L.A. Zoo, and race politics in one story and comes out the other end smelling of roses.

This novel is about all of those things and about none of them. It’s all about the voice. The narrator talks directly to us and it soon becomes clear she’s not all there. She’s half-dead with grief, reeling from the fallout of a failed marriage to an alcoholic and now unable to love anything or anyone beyond her cat. She gets mixed up in a protest theater group (based on Augusto Boal’s Theater of the Oppressed) and then involved in a series of increasingly bizarre incidents.

The novel is by turns hilarious and tragic. A lobotomized woman lives, barely, among hundreds of cats; the theater group lurches from daft stunt to even dafter stunt; and the ‘baddie’, it turns out, is just a naive fool on the wrong side of the political tracks.

To try to summarize the plot would be a fool’s errand, but I found this book terrifically entertaining in an absurd, where’s-she-going-to-take-us-next? kind of way. And just when we’re waiting for the next laugh, the novel surprises us by becoming something altogether more moving.

As a follow-up to the shimmering, award-winning California Transit, Confessions of a Carnivore doesn’t disappoint. It’s full of wild ideas and crazy conceits, and still manages to warm the heart.

* * *

More info and to order.