Monster’s Chef by Jervey Tervalon is a book in all directions. It has some social commentary (I am almost totally convinced the character of Monster is inspired by Michael Jackson), more social commentary (how we see drug addicts), suspense, mystery, magical realism, and a touch of noir. I had no idea what was going to happen in this book and was a little unsure of the plot at first. Disgraced restaurateur gets out of jail and ends up working for a nefarious rock star named Monster. But I found myself believing a lot. Not all, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
So to the Michael Jackson thing. I found a lot of overlap (bleached skin, Ferris wheel at the compound, children running all over the place) but it was a very different spin from what I experienced when watching the Michael Jackson meltdown. Jackson was always seen as a tragic figure. Corrupted by an abusive home life and fame to become the wax figure he died as. Monster does not garner the same sympathy. He’s downright sinister. He’s less the victim and more the financially empowered madman enabled to do any and all of his bidding. It’s pretty nightmarish how he keeps his synthetic world running on money, drugs, and mystery. The book also comes with recipes that actually seem to have very little to do with the book or the story but are super delicious. I love a bonus.
My only complaint is that the ending may have twisted too fast. The fragile character of Rita 180’s into a badass which is admirable but happens a bit too suddenly for me to really believe it. I think a little extra development on her part would have been helpful. I also didn’t love that a lot of the characters with alternative sexualities were predatory. While I’m sure there are evil gay black security guards pressuring the help into affairs, it’s not nearly the rate of their straight counterparts and I don’t think that benefits the movement much. As a person who qualifies as an alternative sexuality, it was a little tired to have to see the stereotype of gay men being this super inappropriate, downright rapey entity. It’s so 1970. Now this may be to reflect how Monster’s lair doesn’t have the usual rules of the outside world and is entirely ID and primal but still. I’m tutting.
I really enjoyed it. I was nervous with every page turn.