Seventh Seltzer has done everything he can to break from the past, but in his overbearing, narcissistic mother's last moments he is drawn back into the life he left behind. At her deathbed, she whispers in his ear the two words he always knew she would: "Eat me."
If you are familiar with Auslander’s writing, there is much that will feel familiar here: the brutal deadpan, the themes of the individual versus the tribe, the destructive lure of victimhood, the irrationality of tradition, the awfulness of mothers. It’s not hard to find other ways to criticise Mother for Dinner too. Auslander can’t — or won’t — do action; the siblings are hard to tell apart; the broadsides at identity politics are predictable ... Does this matter? Surprisingly little. Mother for Dinner works for two reasons. One is that the conceit is inspired, ideally situated on the threshold of dream and reality. Taking his cue from Montaigne’s essay on cannibals, Auslander stretches cultural relativism to its limit. The Can-Ams become an every-minority (Seventh is variously mistaken for a Jew, an Arab, a black person and a Latino); their story becomes an every-story ... The second reason is that it has a terrific motor ... retains the propulsion of true farce right to the end. The stakes ratchet up; the unthinkable becomes inevitable; and by the end, it’s surprisingly moving. Like the cruellest cynics, Auslander proves a sentimentalist at heart ... So what if it’s the same book in a different key? Auslander is like Monet, painting the same haystacks over and over again, or Mallarmé, rewriting the same sonnet. He does one thing, but boy does he do it well. I wonder if his therapist forces him to write these things as part of his treatment every few years? Whatever, we are blessed.
... an uncomfortable, sometimes funny satire of hybrid identities and family dynamics ... In Mother for Dinner, identities are arbitrary labels that tell you nothing about the characters and are infinitely interchangeable. It’s clearly meant as a satire of the ways in which race is a social construct, but Auslander avoids the fact that race (among other identities) is a lived reality, and plays the scene only as absurd ... This is the book’s weakness. The Cannibals are at best questionable satire of identity politics, and Auslander frequently appears to dismiss people’s actual lived experiences as arbitrary currencies used in social interactions ... The book’s strength is Auslander’s deft hand with toxic family relationships ... Auslander pursues the conceit through its grotesque stages, and, more movingly, explores Seventh as he moves psychologically from full rejection of his past and identity to passionate defender and advocate ... a deeply uncomfortable novel. At times, it’s funny. At others, it’s a too-accurate examination of family ties. It’s also, very directly, a book about eating human flesh, and everything that might entail. It’s not a book for readers with thin skins or weak stomachs, but it is genuinely engaging, and fans of Auslander who can suppress their gag reflexes will likely enjoy it.
... splenetic riffs on the ingrained human need to search for meaning in ancient customs, no matter how repugnant they are ... The jokes are dependably good ... If Mother for Dinner tickled me less than Hope: A Tragedy it’s partly because its scenes are so physically revolting ... I’m not sure if this will offend pieties or just turn stomachs.