A social satire raises spooky questions about food additives.
"The brain is like the Amazon, Leveraux. Ten steps in and we're lost." So flavorist-in-training David Leveraux is told by his boss when he reveals his worries about the obesity and depression of the animals on whom he's testing a new artificial sweetener, Sweetness #9. The boss explains that as these things go, cancer is easy. Other side effects are "like a scuttling sound on the jungle floor, something that shakes a bush or runs up a tree just moments before you can identify it." That observation is the heart of the first novel by Clark (he's also written a story collection, Vladimir's Moustache, 2012), which will make you nervous about what you eat. Shortly after this conversation, Leveraux is fired and committed to an institution. Then the novel leapfrogs from 1973 to 1998. Leveraux is out of the bin, back in the business and patriarch of a family raised on fake food. Things are not going well: His wife has weight problems, his son has stopped using verbs, and his angry, rebellious daughter is researching an article on food additives. In fact, every character may or may not be showing the depredations of a chemically based diet, and the problem may have originated with experiments in Hitler's bunker. While the plot goes off the deep end, Clark's wit never flags. Of his son Ernest, Leveraux observes, "Churchill once spoke of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma;...I might describe [Ernest] as a corn dog wrapped inside a slice of pizza stuffed in a Hot Pocket." Of a rival company, Tanko-Shinju: "I've heard [it] translated both as 'pink pearl' and 'two men commit suicide in a coal mine.' "
Clever writing balances out the conspiracy theories, but the fictional treatment of this issue leaves readers wondering about the facts.