Beneath the Skin: Fiction, Cannibals, and Vegetarianism
By Andy Elliott
I have a secret: Inside the Outside literally changed my life.
For some years, I had harboured the suspicion that eating animals was morally suspect and a practice I should curb, but, goddamn it, those critters were just too delicious and the prospect of vegetarianism too inconvenient to compel me to action. Upon finishing Inside the Outside, a remarkable tale of a young woman raised within a cannibalistic cult, I instantly stopped eating meat and fish.
That was 7 months ago.
In that time countless friends, relatives, and colleagues have asked me:
To all of these questions and to all of these people, without exception, I have lied, cobbling together some vague response about having suddenly and inexplicably reached that decision when all along the truth is...
Martin Lastrapes made me do it!
Why the secrecy? I'm embarrassed. In the end it wasn't the PETA campaigns, the health or environmental arguments that ultimately occasioned this decision. I was simply moved to it by a work of fiction.
The detached, unquestioning way in which the book's main characters equate people with meat, coupled with the isolation of the setting and the quality of Lastrapes' prose is tantamount to indoctrination. When I learned, through the book's protagonist, Timber Marlow, that people on the outside survive by eating animals, it was as though I was hearing this information for the first time.
By that point meat was meat; it was all or nothing, cannibalism or vegetarianism. For the time being at least, I have plumped for the latter. While this is far from the first time I've been moved by great literature, it is certainly the most impact a book has ever had on my diet and probably on the way I choose to live my life.
Inside the Outside is often categorised as horror. This is the expectation I had of it and yet what actually unfolded on the page was not genre fiction at all, but an accomplished work approaching literary fiction—albeit one that has moments of high terror, gruesome dismemberment, and cannibalism. For people who find it hard to reconcile those two positions, I have two words: American Psycho.
If you want a grisly page-turner, Inside the Outside will more than deliver. Get beneath the skin and subcutaneous fat though and, as with the human body, what you'll find with Inside the Outside is a complex and impressive structure, not of veins and capillaries but themes, ideas, and commentary.
Lastrapes deals with them deftly, almost playfully, often allowing only a short glimpse for the idea to form before moving the narrative on, then returning to it pages or sometimes chapters later. Some of the gruesome set-pieces excepted, it is a very accessible read, particularly so when you consider that it touches some big ideas like belief, power, corruption, objectification, and consumerism, as well as offering considered insights into intimacy, sexuality, and the loss of innocence.
Or it could just be a clever ruse to make you give up eating meat.
Andy Elliott is a writer living and working in Wales. A graduate of Trinity College, Carmarthen's MA Creative Writing course, he has contributed to the New Welsh Review and published his first short novel, Composition, in May 2011.