February 2014

Margaret Howie

fiction

Season to Taste, or How to Eat Your Husband by Natalie Young

Lizzie Prain's got it nicely sorted for a woman in her fifties, with the small rural cottage, the cake-making business, and her marriage to Jacob, a sculptor she met at art school. This is the stuff that Domestic Goddess daydreams are made of: giving up social media and long commutes for being more present in the moment. Cooking, walking the dog, gardening; ideally while wearing homemade woven clothing and upcycling jam jars into whimsical light fixtures. Lizzie is deliberate and practical, an expert cook, thrifty, good with her hands. The landscape she inhabits is right out of a Pinterest lifestyle board fantasy.

But Lizzie isn't gazing over her flower garden awash in a torrent of gratitude-based endorphins. She is standing over the body of her freshly killed husband (spade, skull) and the weight of her entire lifetime is piled up on top of her.

Natalie Young's novel Season to Taste, or How to Eat Your Husband picks away at the household idyll that forms the happy-ever-after backdrop in the last scene of the makeover show, or the TV cook's penultimate feast. A contemporary horror story assembled from the secular comforts of recipes, therapy-speak, and listicles, it draws out its terror not from mystery but from exposure.

Lizzie's husband Jacob used to get angry about her lack of imagination. But he overlooked her capacity for cunning strategizing, which lies dormant until his death pushes her disposal plan into action. Additionally, she possesses decades of experience at manual work and budgeting. This turns out to be a useful mixture of skills that perfectly suit a new passion for life and her personal goal-setting. Which is to eat Jacob.

Wife devours husband: it's a scenario that would have thrilled Roald Dahl. In his story "Lamb to the Slaughter," a killer feeds her murder weapon to the police officers investigating her husband's death. Young simply removes the middleman from Dahl's scenario. The reader gets to join in by following Lizzie's step-by-step guide to consuming one's spouse.

27. Dollop a great spoon of redcurrant jelly, and add another sprinkle or two of best-quality sea salt.

If you're going to use a gimmick like this, you need to commit to it thoroughly, and Season to Taste drives it home. There are over a hundred items in Lizzie's list, making it completely unsuitable for Buzzfeed. Young nails the robust voice of positive affirmations, the subtle jokes and mundane tips that veer into sheer nerve-shredding terror. It's a trick which the novel uses to blow big holes into the most boring parts of an English middle-class lifestyle. Even comfort eating isn't a refuge anymore.

63. Don't start making comparisons with madwomen in history. You are not one of those.

There is another voice in the novel, Tom Vickory. He's a young man who's known Lizzie and Jacob most of his life. An empath who works at the local garden center, his sweet softness is drawn to Lizzie's bitter edges. As a narrative device, Tom backs up certain relative aspects of Lizzie's story, and gives the horrible passage of Jacob's body an extra dose of tension as he bumbles around the Prain cottage. Tom's character arc is far simpler as his arrested development is about to get a sharp shock from his growing intimacy with an older woman. But Tom's biggest problem turns out to be that he thinks that he's starring in The Graduate, not playing a supporting role in The Collector.

106. You probably won't feel like eating chicken ever again. No matter.

After carrying out the central premise so strongly, the ending comes as a bit of a damp squib. It mistakes ambiguity for profundity, and uses an open letter as a path to emotional reassurance. While this is a common resolution to the kind of self-help case studies that the novel skewers, this book is primarily a horror story, and the reader deserves a sharper shock at the end. However the internal journey that Lizzie takes (down the gullet, fortified by wine, through the digestive system and out the other end) is a deliciously ghastly counterpart to all the aspirational tracts aimed at her demographic. Being bold enough to choose humor over self-pity is a decent enough affirmation for the protagonist of a novel. Following the flourishing of DIY culture right through to the aftermath of a crime, Season to Taste is a gory punch line to a tired joke of marriage.

Season to Taste, or How to Eat Your Husband by Natalie Young
Little, Brown and Company
ISBN: 978-0316282482
208 pages