Journalist and debut author Chelsea G Summers once wrote: “2014 was the year Misandrie got chic” Ex girlfriendcriminal mastermind Amy to Taylor Swift’s knife-wielding personality in Space.
I was expecting this zeitgeist nail polish emoji brand of feminist vengeance when I heard about Summers’ first novel, which was called “Eat, pray, love meets American psycho“. While the novel duly satisfies this desire, it also gives voice to a certain form of mishap that cannot be dismissed as merely fashionable.
We occupy the headspace of the revered food critic Dorothy Daniels, who is writing her work from prison. She knows that “psychopathy sells better than sex” and that “sex plus psychopathy” is “an intoxicating pleasure.” With her readers eating out of the palm of her hand, she gleefully tells how she turned men into notches in her bedpost, then into delicacies on her plate.
Her cannibalistic journey to self-actualization says, “Eat your heart out Julia Roberts! I’ll eat your heart, Patrick Bateman! “
Daniels describes himself as “the bronze-copper of the psychopaths, a large beautiful auburn butterfly that flaps its dark wings while eating”.
As you can see and hear, Daniels shares a gallows humor and deliciously synaesthetic, detailed attention to language with Nabokov’s Humbert Humbert.
Daniels remembers how a former lover called her (false) name “Diane” in bed, “he was on the implosive, hard interdental“ D ”and the nasal“ Aye ”and a straight line between my fictional name pulled and his imminent mortality before he gasped the last “Ann”.
In contrast to Humbert Humbert, she slips into the strange, hackneyed sentence – “The jig was up”, “Haters gonna hate”.
That bothered me at first. Then, I asked myself, is my manhood so fragile that I can endure the evisceration of men – their “great giants of intestines, a vague, almost hallucinatory purple in that quarter-light, tumble.”[ing] Hurdy-gurdy like streamers ”- if it is staged in the high poetry of late modernism, but not in the light tte-à-tête of journalism?
Both registers are believable for this caged egoist who turns to the vulgar with aloof boasting.
In a minute she compares murder to “the last beauty of Zaha Hadid’s bridge pavilion in Spain”; the next to complain that “being feminine” is as “soulless and pitifully capitalist as a Big Mac”.
“Culture refuses to see violence in women,” says Daniels, “and the law has a particular aversion to violent women.” Summers’ novel is a refusal of that refusal, a lustful vehicle for female anger, the kind of cathartic outlet who have had men for decades – always the slasher, never the corpse.
In Western culture, women are not only subtly encouraged to put anger aside as “unfeminine,” but discouraged even from recognizing it within themselves.
If “misandry” is defined not as hatred of men but as anger against the patriarchal order, could anger be a critically useful emotion in warning us that something is wrong? Abuses like this could spark positive social action as well as other great novels.
A certain hunger is less a public and political claim to anger than a personal, private one.
A certain starvation from Chelsea G Summers (Untitled Press, £ 19.75)