FROM THE FILM DIRECTOR who holds the title King of Venereal Horror, it should come as no surprise that David Cronenberg's debut novel, Consumed, is dark, man. The shadowy tale hits all the seamy lows—sensational journalism, cancer sex, apotemnophilia, experimental surgery, technology porn, and, oh yeah, sexy cannibalism. Like the car wreck fetishists of his 1996 film, Crash, it's impossible to look away from the hypnotic, sordid spiral. Cronenberg proves himself an astonishingly electric author of the macabre with this hybrid of genre fiction and philosophical rumination on consumerism.
Consumed opens with lovers Naomi and Nathan on parallel paths as headline-chasing journalists. But above all, they're consumers—their cameras, recorders, and phones erotically detailed down to exactingly tight apertures and HD specifications. Nathan covers scandalous medical stories, the likes of which he finds in the dank operating room of a sadistic Hungarian surgeon who traffics in organs, or in Toronto where a sketchy STD doctor treats his troubled daughter. In Paris, impetuous Naomi is hot on the trail of Aristide Arosteguy, a famous French philosopher who is suspected of killing, then eating, his similarly famous philosopher wife, Célestine. Naomi is soon racing headlong into Aristide's Tokyo hideout to interview the notorious cannibal. And then it gets even more twisted.
Cronenberg is fully versed in the art of the gross-out, and Consumed doesn't shy away from his famous stock of body-horrific viscera (see: Scanners, eXistenZ, The Fly, and Dead Ringers). But like his best films, this book is so much more than a sum of its (dismembered) parts. Cronenberg's transgressive commentary about the world-at-large is splinter-sharp, digging into themes like digital presence, the definition of beauty, body dysmorphia, and the perverse vagaries of the creative process. Like this revelation by turned-on Nathan, "It was the paradigm of the retroactive experience: Nathan had not felt anything like this while taking the photos, so caught up was he in the mechanics of getting the shot, but now, looking at them... the wounds puckered and weeping or scabbing, provoked unsettling reveries in Nathan." Which segues into the other aspect of this endlessly curious novel: Consumed is surprisingly funny (if you like dark, man).
Cronenberg's first literary foray encompasses all facets of consumerism. Really, every definition: the wasting disease of consumption; to eat up; to destroy; to engross; and the all-consuming fire and consummation of love. He covers that ground while also breathing a sinister pulse into his disturbing creation... an act that's the very opposite of "consumption."