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Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander: Even more outrageous and funny

The confidence with which Shalom Auslander drags the reader into this world is exemplary and you’re unlikely to read anything funnier this year, writes Doug Johnstone

I feel that writing fiction is really one big confidence trick. You’re asking the reader to come into a new world and engage deeply with the rules of your universe, and that’s all about confidence. If you create the world with confidence, the reader feels that in the pages.

I’ve long been a fan of the Jewish-American author Shalom Auslander. He is one of the few who can really make me belly laugh. His previous books were all brilliant, scathing parodies, often of the author’s ultra-orthodox upbringing, and if anything, his wonderful new book Mother for Dinner is even more outrageous and funny.

The book is narrated by middle-aged Seventh Seltzer, a disillusioned New Yorker who is called to his mother’s deathbed along with his 11 siblings.

But this is no ordinary family, as the mother implores her children to eat her body upon her death. It turns out this is one of the last families of Cannibal-Americans (Can-Ams for short) and this is a tradition going back generations to ‘the old country’.

Seventh has never been a practising Cannibal and is, of course, disgusted, but he’ll only inherit his mother’s money if he takes part.

And so the book takes the reader on a stomach-churning ride, filling in the family’s backstory along the way, as the siblings decide whether or not to fulfil their mother’s dying wish and maintain Can-Am tradition. As you might surmise from the premise, this is often pretty shocking stuff but it is also downright hilarious, and I started laughing from the first page and never stopped.

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Like in all his writing, Auslander uses Mother for Dinner to make serious points about everything from the blandness of modern society to religious extremism, the vagaries of the publishing industry (Seventh works as an editor) to sibling rivalry and more.

Most obviously here he gleefully examines the immigrant experience and the conflict between trying to assimilate into a new culture and maintain old ways. But he does so with buckets of laughs and some very visceral description. The confidence with which Auslander drags the reader into this world is exemplary, and you’re unlikely to read anything funnier this year.

Mother for Dinner by Shalom Auslander is out now (Picador, £16.99)

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