By David Cronenberg (Scribner; 2014)
I’m glad it’s finally here: the better-late-than-never debut novel by the now 71-year-old David Cronenberg, who once stated in an interview that he was concerned that in attempting to write prose he’d imitate the work of his favorite writers (William S. Burroughs, Vladimir Nabokov, etc). That’s not the case, however, with CONSUMED, which has a thoroughly unique and individual voice that falls somewhere between those of William Gibson and Don DeLillo in its concentration on technological minutiae and elegant perversity. It’s also fully in keeping with the obsessions and subject matter of Cronenberg’s films.
Set in a future world where do-it-yourself mastectomies and ambient hearing aids are in vogue, it involves Nathan and Naomi, a pair of workaholic journalists who share twin passions for technology and depravity. This relationship, in keeping with its participants’ technological preferences, is conducted largely online, with Nathan and Naomi spending the majority of their time pursuing their respective obsessions. In Nathan’s case that obsession is with a renegade surgeon named Zoltan Molnar–and a venereal disease Nathan catches from one of Molnar’s patients–while Naomi is on the trail of Aristide Arosteguy, a Marxist philosopher accused of dismembering and cannibalizing his wife Celestine. Inevitably the two strands converge, with Arosteguy’s exploits, and his connections with North Korea, becoming paramount.
Aristide Arosteguy’s account, as elucidated in an extended first person monologue, is the book’s most overtly Cronenbergian element. This is to say that it’s the most gruesome bit, with Celestine believing a hive of insects are swarming in her left breast, and Arosteguy coming to share her delusions (there’s more than a hint here of the William Friedkin film/Tracy Letts play BUG). The details of Celestine’s murder and post-mortem violation follow, although the facts of this are called into question in the final pages.
Unlike Cronenberg’s films (which even at their most self-indulgent tend to be notably lean and unadorned), CONSUMED is quite expansive and overstuffed. The narrative is frequently diluted by lengthy ruminations on subjects ranging from sex after menopause to insect eating and apotemnophilia (i.e. the desire to have healthy limbs amputated). It’s certainly not uninteresting, although I never found the book very absorbing, it being cerebral above all else. Hopefully that’s something Cronenberg will remedy in subsequent novels!