We Eat Our Own

In 1979, an actor--referred to only by his character's name, Richard--gets his break: to play the lead in a schlocky horror film shot in Colombia. He is told little, has no script and can't communicate with the mostly Italian crew. The jungle is stifling. Prop body parts seem too real. The entire production begins a slow descent into chaos, piloted by an inscrutable director who, like Joseph Conrad's Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, is quite possibly mad.

This debut novel from Kea Wilson is an engrossing, atmospheric and at times morbidly funny story that reads as a horrifying thriller and plays with deeper themes of art and artifice. When does our fascination with blood, sex and gore trespass from the voyeuristic to the complicit? What is authenticity, and how much do we really want it? It's a rich vein for a novelist, and Wilson, who is a bookseller and self-described horror fan, is one of the few who mine it well (Steven Millhauser is another). Yet she avoids overreaching, and keeps the action taut.

Based loosely on events surrounding the filming and release of the exploitation film Cannibal Holocaust, the chapters are told from the perspectives of different characters who succumb in some way to violence--a leftist guerilla, the husband-and-wife prop team, and various cast and crew. Interjected throughout are snippets of stage dialogue from the director's court testimony. We Eat Our Own is a novel with a satisfying build and plenty to gnaw on for days afterward. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

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