Set the table for one lonely soul and prepare for an introspective horror story that attempts to tap into primal repulsion. Critique by Daniel I. Russell is a journey into obsession that leads to unsettling self discovery. Russell explores the shadows of a broken soul in a well written, gently paced novella that lets you savor his effort rather than have it shoved down your throat.
Sandy Devanche is the city’s harshest food critic. He believes his tough words are aimed at improving the restaurants he visits, but the top chefs dread and fear his arrival. One particular evening he visits an experimental eatery known as the House of Jacob. The strange meal leaves him both disgusted and fascinated. Slowly Sandy descends into isolation and obsession as he becomes consumed with savoring more of the chef’s unorthodox food. His fractured life becomes more troubled as he thinks only of the exquisite flavors offered by the House of Jacob. Finally, he crosses a line into a grim place of introspection that promises freedom from his pain in exchange for…
Russell attempts a moral tale, perhaps a fable. Sandy is the misguided soul given a second chance at life if he can overcome his own demons. The idea is powerful, but I didn’t feel that Sandy was developed as a character worth such profound intervention. He was a self-centered asshole, without a doubt, but I didn’t buy him as deserving of his fate. During the revelation of the final meal, Sandy was confronted with religious imagery that may put off conservative readers, but Russell treats it with the respect it deserves in order to lend authenticity to his message.
Russell worked very hard to varying degrees of success using food as a dark source of spiritual sustenance. On one occasion my stomach turned with revulsion, but in others I was unmoved. The uneven horrors of the meals detracted from the growing tension of the situation.
I’m sure this is an early effort in a long writing career that will blossom with the release of each new work. I give Critique by Daniel I. Russell 3 severed heads clad in their bloody chef hats.
Heads Will Roll,