I love a good cannibal serial killer novel. You’d be surprised to learn that although I’m not a “gore hound” and in fact would rather read supernatural or psychological thriller novels, there is something I crave about a good cannibal serial killer horror novel. It kills me to admit that in spite of having the potential for a delicious cannibal serial killer novel, I did not love Consumed by author Matt Shaw. This is the best way I can describe Consumed: It was disturbing as promised, but not disturbing in the way I like my cannibal serial killer novels disturbing.
The plot is pretty standard. Five twenty-somethings who were once good friends but are beginning to fall apart go on a road trip in hopes of rebuilding their friendship. The main character is Michael, an aimless, hard-headed person. Michael’s best friend is Joel, an auto mechanic (oh, the irony!) who would smoke his life away if he could. Lara is a sharp-tongued woman who had once dated Joel and still feels the burn of their break-up. Hayley is a beauty queen who is so consumed (pun not intended but rock with it) with how she compares to other women that she doesn’t notice larger issues. Charlotte is a sweetheart who should not even be a part of the group and is viewed as a little sister that needs protected from the real world. Dan is just there, not someone who had a role other than being the first to die. The road trip doesn’t start off well with Lara and Joel bickering and continues to get worse when the car breaks down and they are rescued by two twenty-something brothers Johnny and Stephen who take them to the family house for a meal. Little do the five friends know that they’re the main course.
There are scenes of cannibalism in the novel, which I appreciated since that was why I wanted to read this book in the first place. Descriptions of a young woman eating a man during intercourse is sick and twisted, just the way I want my cannibal serial killer novels. What, I can’t enjoy a little bit of gore? In addition, there were entire pages dedicated to how some of the characters were sliced and diced. If you like details rather than fade-to-black sequences, Consumed is your book. Maybe.
How do you feel about incest? How do I put this without requiring a trigger warning? To put it bluntly, there is a lot of incest. None of it is fade-to-black either. It’s not as frequent or physically sickening as scenes in another extreme horror novel Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book One), the novel that I hold up as the sickest extreme horror novel I’ve read to date, but reading the descriptions of father-on-daughter violence feels voyeuristic and wrong. The problem with Consumed is that it should be the cannibalism that turns your stomach but in fact the incest is (I’m guessing) the reason this novel is considered extreme horror. I’ll ask you again, how do you feel about incest? Do you believe incest can carry a horror novel from beginning to end? Do you believe that incest is a ploy to make the villainous characters more sympathetic, even if there’s nothing else about them that is sympathetic? This may just be a personal concern, but I don’t think the way incest was written in Consumed was well-handled. Conventional wisdom says that you aren’t supposed to root for the villainous characters at any point of the novel. It was hard trying to negotiate the conventional wisdom with what the daughters suffered from their entire lives. Suzanne and Tammy, the daughters, are almost as into cannibalism as their parents. As readers, we shouldn’t like them. When they are raped by their father, we still don’t like them but we see them as victims and it’s just weird. Consumed would’ve been a stronger novella if the author left out the incest and just let us hate the family.
I have a lot of thoughts on Consumed, but I think author Matt Shaw’s author note placed right before the story says much more than I could say. Apparently Consumed isn’t even Matt Shaw’s normal style of writing. He had been receiving feedback from readers about them wanting some serious gore and rocked with it. His attempt with Consumed satisfied the extreme horror fans enough that the majority of ratings for the novella were overwhelmingly positive, but I’m not okay with it. I like Matt Shaw’s writing when it’s psychological (ex: Clown) or supernatural (ex: The Cabin and The Cabin: Asylum). I would normally recommend Matt Shaw. I will probably recommend some of his future works once I get ahold of them. I do not recommend Consumed.