I’ll start my review of Alexandra Kleeman’s You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine with the highest praise I can think of for any book: the storytelling reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s. The same horror at conformity and conventional wisdom screams from every page, in a sweet and thoughtful way. And there are drawings by the author.
This is a book about hunger. Hunger as the fundamental desire, the one we use to understand all others, notoriously including sex – the gnawing need to fill an emptiness. It’s a book that recoils from the nauseating spectacle of consumption.
“I concentrated on the biting and chewing. My body didn’t want to: it felt like the food was filling me over, pushing against the backs of my eyeballs. What occurred to me then as I crouched on the warehouse floor, my mouth full, was that living wasn’t a matter of right or wrong or ethics or self-expression. There was no better way to live, or worse. It was all terrible, and you had to do it constantly. I bore down, I tore in. I held my fingers over my mouth to steady the lips and keep the food from reversing. I held the image of the shark in my mind, tearing tearing tearing at the body of a seal.”
This is also a book about identity – losing it, finding it, confusing it, and adopting one that belongs to someone else. It is a book that asks the question, “Is it better to starve or to eat shit and pretend it’s food?” Starving is the more difficult path for a lot of reasons but the most important may be that it’s anti-conformist. Everyone else is eating. The pressure to join in the meal is irresistible and, like life, it’s inescapable, imperative.
The idea that a novel needs a hero may seem antiquated but this book is bold enough to have one, and his name is Kandy Kat. This is a hero who is willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for his heart’s desire. This is no Wile E. Coyote we’re dealing with; this is something out of Edgar Allan Poe. This is hunger brought to life. Hunger obliges clammy skin and taught muscles and bulging eyes. Hunger cannot be satisfied. Hunger can’t win.
“Maybe Kandy Kat survived like that, from images of eating and images of food. Light consuming light, the desire for sustenance a type of sustenance in itself. Even if he was always paused on the narrow edge of starvation, what he was doing in pursuit of Kandy Kakes sustained him. They made his life terrible, but at the same time they made him more himself.”
The narrator of You Too Can Have A Body Like Mine is a woman without a name but with a voice as compelling as any in contemporary fiction. Her observations transcend the spooky tranquility of the suburban existence she shares with her roommate B and her boyfriend C. In the third and final section of the book the narrator lifts the veil and takes a big bite of the Kandy Kake.
“The Kakes rubbled on our tongues, tasting of chocolate and bone, waxy with fudge and greasy frosting, and at the same time not tasting like much. Tasting like less than we had expected, even though every time we ate one we expected less. The gathering space was full of people standing alone and facing in random directions, all wresting with their own mouths. And when we had won at last, cracking the Kandy Kore to reach the sugary fluid within, we gagged on the bitter slick. My mouth was raw and scoured and tasted of biled orange.
I looked down at my sack, at the four that I still had to finish. Down inside me, in a place near my heart, my stomach quivered.”