Food for worms
Eating starts and ends all the events in Generation, from the tarmac table of the opening scene to the al fresco irony of the final twist. But to describe these bracketing meals as cosy dinners for two would be to misunderstand the relationship between the food and the eater.
Hendrix Harrison is a seventies-born journalist who views the subjects of his articles as fraudsters and fakes while cynically taking the money for writing about their mystical experiences and presenting them as scientific truth for the avid readership of Strange Phenomenon magazine.
A morning’s work for Hendrix is chasing the Wolf of Ashburton across Dartmoor then stopping for a hamburger, lettuce drowning in mayonnaise and chips, on the way back to London.
His principles demand he only eats fast food during emergencies; when only a sugared bun and cow’s lips burger will do. He hates that business-designed fast food was so good, and he is perfectly aware that he is as lost with his eating as he is with his work.
For the heroic characters in Generation, food is mostly a rushed affair. Despite the flickering relationship that you might think would be ignited by a romantic dinner date — but was first kindled over a decaying corpse – both Harrison and his reluctant side-kick Sarah Wallace consider eating as a distraction; Harrison because he is too lazy to stop for real food and Wallace because she is too busy.
She telegraphs her attitude to food during the DNA analysis of insect larva found burrowing into the cadavers she studies.
“I’ve brought you something to eat to stop you leaving the chair,” she says, placing a bag of salt ’n’ vinegar crisps and some cheese dips on the bench. It was the best she could do from the hospital vending machines, she adds.
Even as she and her colleague munch on potato chips they discuss the fate of the victims. Insects will oviposit at the natural openings to the body. This gives quick access to food for the larvae and an easy entrance to the body cavity, Wallace explains.
References to food peppers the thinking of many of the characters both major and minor. The main villain drives a car that is at the top of the automobile food chain, and a police detective is in constant contact with his stomach.
“Get me a sandwich will you? I like those bacon and egg, breakfast specials with a sachet of ketchup,” the officer says.
His colleague teases him about his bad eating habits, but trying to lose weight was a battle he was unwilling to enter. He had other things on his mind, like why his wife kept leaving the house so early on a Saturday morning, and why the kids seemed to dislike him so much.
But while the living characters of the book have a mostly normal relationships to food, be that as slightly obsessive or as inconvenient needs, it is the victims of the cruel genetic testing, designed to regenerate their bodies after injury, for whom the connection with food is an abomination.
They both eat and are eaten.
Their very existence is defined by loss of family confused with a wrenching hunger that cannot be satisfied. In the opening we see a dark figure driven to emerge from the comfort and safety of dark, lonely woodland to feast on roadkill.
“Meat from a carcass squashed against a tarmac tablecloth.” It had no taste, and felt as if he was biting into his own skull.
His attempt at fulfillment is short lived and doomed to failure. As he eats, he is himself struck by a car and he drags himself by his finger nails to a hollow beneath a hedge.
He watches the generations of flies as they feed, breed and die on and within his body. He knows they will eventually consume him and he times his approaching death in the life-cycle of flies; every generation a clock tick to peace.
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, William!
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