As a professional book recommender, I’m constantly recommending books. Unfortunately, not everyone enjoys the same sorts of books I do, so I must resort to asking what sorts of books a person likes before I can offer my precise recommendation. Over and over again, I hear, “I want a work of fiction about a fictional movie that’s inspired by the making of the film ‘Cannibal Holocaust.’ Also, it needs to have a subplot about a socialist revolution that intersects with the main plot in perfect but horrifying fashion,” they’ll inevitably say. Prior to reading “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, I could only offer tearful apologies and some of the candy I keep in my pockets: I knew of no such book. Now, however, I can enthusiastically recommend “We Eat Our Own” by Kea Wilson, and keep my candy.
Wilson’s novel follows several different characters. We start with “Richard,” whose name is in quotes because he’s only referred to by the part he’s playing until near the end of the novel. “Richard” is an unknown American actor who is brought into the production because having an American actor lowers distribution costs, and the previous American actor abandoned the project because there was no script. Also, crucially, he is the same shoe size as the departed actor. As it’s set in the ’70s, he has no reliable and civilized way of informing his girlfriend of his immediate departure, so he writes a note that she won’t see for weeks, and makes his way to South America.
We also look in on a band of socialist revolutionaries as they plot the overthrow of their government. One of them is really nice: he brings classical music to their hostage. Another is less nice: he beats the teeth out of their hostage. We spend time with, among others, a sociopathic Swedish actress, an American who has cozied up to a drug cartel after founding a town deep in the jungle, and the director of “Jungle Bloodbath,” a man more interested in gruesome realism than the safety of his actors or the existence of a script.
The chapters are intercut with testimony from a trial that occurs after the release of the film. It seems the director is in hot water for the disappearance of some folks from the set. He’s a bit of a rascal, and is not forthcoming about what happened to the people in question.
Ambitious plotting aside, what makes the book most remarkable is Wilson’s prose. You feel the suffocating grasp of the jungle. You hear the constant buzz and feel the bites of the ever-present infectious mosquitoes. You tread carefully for fear of stepping into a nest of venomous ants. You think about socialist revolutions. You ache to learn what’s going to happen to the actors, what’s going to happen in the movie. You enjoy “Richard’s” chapters, even if you’re wary of chapters written in the second person. You find your thirst for a book about a fake movie inspired by a real movie about carnage in the jungle and violent revolutions slaked.