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This British author makes a promising debut with a freewheeling black comedy about a London family and its cheerful embrace of cannibalism and incest. Krippendorf is an anthropologist with a problem. He has blown his grant money (for fieldwork in Brazil) on a new Volvo and an expensive vacation; now he must write up his research. His solution is to invent the Shelmikedmu tribe (named after his kids--Shelley, Mickey and Edmund); his account, a series of masterful parodies, attracts another con artist, the editor of Exotics, a porn magazine in anthropological clothing. Krippendorf supplies him with illustrations, using a busty Filipino mom and an Ethiopian babysitter, whom he has first seduced. Also, while wife Veronica roams the world's trouble spots for television news, he presides over an anarchic m‚nage: Shelley wraps herself in aluminum foil, Mickey napalms the neighbor's cat. Krippendorf grows ever more serene and academically detached as his tribe bursts into full flower. Shelley stains her bedsheet and Krippendorf decrees a menstruation party, or rather ""an exclusive kinship ceremony."" The kids take up residence in the treehouse, where Mickey shows a more than fraternal interest in Shelley; overhearing sounds of passion, Krippendorf ""felt a quiet satisfaction that the children seemed to be getting along so well together of late."" A housekeeper, forced on them by Veronica, is electrocuted by Mickey, stashed in the freezer, and ends up on the dinnertable. These events occur against a social backdrop of layoffs, strikes and riots. The ending is a cop-out: the author simply bundles the family, along with six Exotics subscribers, onto a flight to Brazil. Still, despite its share of first-novel flaws, and despite an undercurrent of misanthropy and sexual nausea, the book offers considerable surface pleasures, if viewed as a mordant comic strip, or an extended Monty Python sketch.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1985
Publisher: Atheneum