Bookshots: ‘Confessions of a Carnivore’ by Diane Lefer
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
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.
Invent a new title for this book:
I would call it: The Mating Rituals of
Drill Baboons Humans
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:
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.
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.
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