My brother-in-law has noticed that most weather-related place names are more indicative than whimsical: if it is the middle of January and you are visiting a place called Snowshoe, you had better be prepared for deep drifts. A corollary for the male characters in Sabina Murray's A Carnivore's Inquiry might be that if you meet a young woman who makes a great deal of casual conversation about cannibalism, it may be a very mixed blessing if she regards you as a "hunk." "Hunk," after all, derives from the Flemish word hunke, which means "a piece of food." My observation, not Murray's, though etymological curiosities related to her subject are among the few she doesn't seem to have investigated.

For A Carnivore's Inquiry is full of all sorts of unusual information from knowledgeable analyses of macabre paintings by Goya and Gericault to detailed accounts of the real events that served as sources for Poe and Melville, to imaginative reconstructions of historical events ranging from the demise of the Donner party to the disappearance of Michael Rockefeller. All of this discursive but fascinating exposition is linked in some way to the picaresque experiences of the main character, Katherine Shea, in whose wake men are found not only dead but also horribly mutilated.

A Carnivore's Inquiry is told in the first person, and so it is easy for the reader to understand what attracts men to Katherine. She is eccentrically attractive, disarmingly direct, acutely perceptive and genuinely witty. Through her narrative, the other characters emerge as fully realized (I am tempted to say "full-bodied and full-blooded") individuals especially her successful father, whom she regards as irredeemably strange, and her deranged mother, whom she regards as a soul mate.

Murray's first novel, Slow Burn, was a sort of Tama Jamowitz story set in Manila, and her PEN-Faulkner award-winning collection of stories, The Caprices, treated characters on the margins of the Pacific theater of World War II. This neo-Gothic tale, which recalls the style of Nicholson Baker, is a considerably different sort of work but an extremely enjoyable ride nonetheless. Martin Kich is a professor of English at Wright State University.

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