What do you do after you have murdered your husband in your garden with a spade? There is no spoiling happening here. The knowledge that Lizzie Prain has bludgeoned her husband is a given. The fact that she decides to dispose of his body by eating him one piece at a time is what the entire marketing of this book hinges on. Yet that is too facile a summary, it over sensationalizes the events. This story is not one of cannibalism, although such an act is integral to the plot and provides the narrative structure.
There are three narrative structures that make up this eloquent and rich novel. The first, and most central is the story of Lizzie as she slowly dedicates the weeks following the murder to the eating of each body part, all the while reminiscing about her marriage and what led to the cataclysmic act. It would be too easy had her husband, Jacob, been a monster, violent, or abusive – but that is not the tale that Young chose to tell. The marriage, though, wasn’t good, and after thirty years it was put to a bloody end. The second structure that is interwoven throughout the book are whimsical and charming personal reminders that Lizzie writes to herself (in the second person as opposed to the narrative in the third) in order to maintain her grasp on reality, and her sight set on her goals. Sometimes deeply funny, they are akin to those affirmations some write on mirrors or water bottles and are meant to improve their lives. A vision-board of sorts. An example would be the sixty-third one that opens chapter 5: “Don’t start making comparisons with madwomen in history. You are not one of them.” Funny, right? The last point of view which appears peppered throughout the tale is from the perspective, in the first person, of Tom, a young neighbor of Lizzie’s. His observations as an outsider of the protagonist offer a different vantage point in spite of his lack of knowledge of the crime.
I would be remiss if I didn’t state how affecting this book is. Young is a powerful storyteller, and is very aware of the strength of her words and narrative, which is ultimately what makes this novel so successful. She is able to lull the reader with the charming and frivolous errands Lizzie must do (such as cleaning, grocery shopping, sleeping, walking her dog), only to jolt us awake with her usage of the macabre, the nauseating, the downright revolting knowledge that this woman is eating a human being. It is not possible to divert one’s attention from it, to imagine that it is something else she is consuming. Young makes us taste every bite, every sinuous ligament, making us accomplices by consequence. We may not be active participants, but we do become witnesses, in spite of ourselves.