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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

The Vegan-Cannibal Conundrum

monster dictionary entry - Version 2

Maren keeps a diary with stories and images in an attempt to make sense of who she is. So I painted this on a photocopied dictionary page with acrylic inks just for kicks.

The first question on everyone’s lips when they hear about Bones & All is,

WHY WOULD A VEGAN WRITE A NOVEL ABOUT A BUNCH OF CANNIBALS???

Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to answer this question at every Q&A (in person and online) I’ve done so far. (Here’s the most recent, by the way.) But I’d like to answer it here in case you’re hearing about the novel for the first time and are having a (totally understandable) WTF moment.

When you first start writing a story, you’re not thinking about how or why you came up with the idea or what the underlying point of it all is. If I set out to write a novel about something, then it isn’t really a piece of art anymore, is it? It’s a vehicle for a particular agenda.

But I didn’t have an agenda when I started writing Bones & All. In the beginning I was only teasing out a scenario that made me laugh— “cannibals in love!” —which in turn grew into an equally hilarious situation: a vegan writing a story about people who eat other people the way a giant or an ogre or an evil witch does in a fairy tale.

It will surprise no one to hear that unlike my first two published novels, I did not particularly enjoy writing this book. It felt like a story I needed to exorcise more than anything else. I had to write it just so I could move on to happier projects, and it was only during the revision process that my subconscious intention became clear. I was perusing an 18th-century Scottish cookbook with a mind toward veganizing some of the more accessible recipes, when one of the headings in the table of contents stopped me cold:

FLESH.

It hit me then: I used to be a flesh eater. And then: I used to be a predator. A predator by proxy, I suppose, having never hunted or slaughtered with my own hands—but a predator nonetheless.

I can’t get used to this idea. It never stops making me shudder. And maybe that’s the way it should be, if I want to be an agent for peace in this crazy world.

flesh

Susanna MacIver’s COOKERY & PASTRY.

Here’s the thing about Maren, my anti-heroine: she “does the bad thing” despite her very best intentions. She wants real friends, a real home, real love, but this horrible compulsion traps her in an endless cycle of devouring and remorse. It’s our best intention to nourish our families when we sit down to a meal together, and yet we prepare and serve the food with little if any thought given to who that food used to be, whom it was taken from, how many beings had to suffer for your steak, your wings, your macaroni and cheese. You just want to feed your children, right? Well, so do they.

Many reviewers and readers have praised this novel for its metaphorical take on feminine sexuality. I’d be pleased if you wanted to read Bones & All through a feminist lens, although the more you learn about the way animals are treated in the dairy and livestock industries, the more you’ll come to understand why we need to develop our consciousness of female oppression regardless of species.

Of course, you can read the novel with no attention to or interest in “the vegan angle.” You are perfectly free to read Bones & All like a straight-up horror story, a deliciously perverted coming of age. But folks keep asking, and this is my answer.

1 Comment to The Vegan-Cannibal Conundrum

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    April 2, 2015 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

    For what it’s worth, I try not too read too much into books and just enjoy the story. I thought it was an interesting story that just made me think huh that’s weird but not as crazy as it first sounds (sort of).

  1. By on May 14, 2015 at 7:50 am

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.