By the author of Foreskin's Lament, a novel of identity, tribalism, and mothers.
Seventh Seltzer has done everything he can to break from the past, but in his overbearing, narcissistic mother's last moments he is drawn back into the life he left behind. At her deathbed, she whispers in his ear the two words he always knew she would: "Eat me."
This is not unusual, as the Seltzers are Cannibal-Americans, a once proud and thriving ethnic group, but for Seventh, it raises some serious questions, both practical and emotional. Of practical concern, his dead mother is six-foot-two and weighs about four hundred and fifty pounds. Even divided up between Seventh and his eleven brothers, that's a lot of red meat. Plus Second keeps kosher, Ninth is vegan, First hated her, and Sixth is dead. To make matters worse, even if he can wrangle his brothers together for a feast, the Can-Am people have assimilated, and the only living Cannibal who knows how to perform the ancient ritual is their Uncle Ishmael, whose erratic understanding of their traditions leads to conflict.
Seventh struggles with his mother's deathbed request. He never loved her, but the sense of guilt and responsibility he feels--to her and to his people and to his "unique cultural heritage"--is overwhelming. His mother always taught him he was a link in a chain, thousands of people long, stretching back hundreds of years. But, as his brother First says, he's getting tired of chains.
Irreverent and written with Auslander's incomparable humor, Mother for Dinner is an exploration of legacy, assimilation, the things we owe our families, and the things we owe ourselves.
Auslander (Hope: A Tragedy) turns his taboo-shattering satiric gaze to cannibalism in this outrageous, salty take on contemporary culture. Seventh Seltzer is a New York City book editor weary of sorting through submissions for the "Not-So-Great Something-American Novel" and their increasingly niche subjects (e.g., "Gender-Neutral-Albino-Lebanese-Eritrean-American"). Seventh is particularly attuned to the "shackles" of identity, having been raised in the persecuted Cannibal-American ("Can-Am") community, which ritualistically consumed its dead. He is the seventh of a dozen surviving children of a monstrous matriarch, Mudd, a bigoted force of nature determined to restore her diminished people to prominence. When she dies, however, many of her children have long since given up cannibalism. Yet, promised a hefty inheritance on the condition that the rite is performed, Seventh and his bickering siblings unite to tackle the grisly task. The bilious narrative trips along its grotesque way, treating readers to the picaresque history of Can-Am immigrants from an unspecified "Old Country." While Auslander harps a bit more than necessary on the alternately constricting and comforting "boxes" of identity, and Seventh's misanthropic epiphany about human nature is a tad facile, more effective is the riotous dissection of cultural formation and a community's hunger for meaning. Auslander soars in enough places to make this worth the price of admission.