Cannibalism is standard First World practice in this debut novel, a futuristic satire whose target is today’s factory farming.
It’s the early 22nd century, and yurn (human flesh) is on every menu. LePan’s novel moves forward on two tracks. There’s the story proper, about a victim and his two families; and then there’s a didactic essay by one Broderick Clark, which provides context for the victim’s horrifying ordeal. How humans came to eat their own flesh has two explanations. The first is economic. After the so-called great extinctions of farm animals, caused by disease, demand arose for another protein-rich food source. Supply was at hand. Little by little, the handicapped came to be seen as subhuman; this shift in perception explains our willingness to eat them. They were renamed mongrels. The cute ones became family pets, to replace disappeared cats and dogs. The rest became chattels on special farms; around age nine, they would be harvested (slaughtered). Which brings us to little Sam, born deaf into a poor family. His loving, distraught mother is forced to leave him on the porch of a better-off family, whose only child, Naomi, insists they adopt him as a pet. All goes well until her mother Carrie, alarmed by Naomi’s close involvement with the creature, pays a facilitator to take him off their hands. After that it’s the chattel farm, where Sam’s fate is sealed. There is suspense and pathos in his story, but periodically we are jerked back to Broderick’s overview, a clever pastiche of a footnoted academic paper. A more skillful writer would have integrated the essay and narrative. As LePan makes clear in the afterword, the barbaric conditions in the chattel pens mirror today’s factory farms, though the attraction/repulsion of human flesh-eating distracts from his propagandist’s point that our solicitude for pets and wild animals should encompass farm animals too.
An awkward hybrid, with an overly oblique message, but it has its moments.