Animals Eat Each Other by Elle Nash

— Nicholas Nichols

VIII. The problem with Eden is letting yourself have it / A. Even after you've wrecked it…
— Diane Seuss, ‘Eden: An Outline’

I love the feeling of a slow drag on a joint—slow inhale, lungs puff, and heat on my lips. Smoking is a simple reminder that I’m alive, even when I forget my own breath. A deep inhale followed by a brief exhale is the best way to describe Elle Nash’s debut novel Animals Eat Each Other.

Cover features two repeated images of a lady, designed to imitate a playign card.
Dzanc Books  |  2018  |  128 pp

The story takes place in Colorado Springs, CO. A town known for its picturesque scenery—a painting in all directions—which makes it feel like you’re trapped in a beautiful prison no one can ever leave. Our narrator, nameless until named, works a regular retail job hoping for something to happen, but not sure what that something might be. Our nameless narrator meets a couple and, whilst she doesn’t realize where things will go, she knows she wants to be taken somewhere.

Ada Limon’s ‘A Name Poem’ speaks to a desire to be owned by the act of being named, but then there’s Lilith, Lilith who was never owned. Our nameless narrator meets with a couple she’s been introduced to by a mutual friend—they like her, and she them. She’s marked by a tattoo and a contract is sealed, she becomes their Lilith, she becomes their untamable.

I thought about how entropy seemed to be the natural state of the universe. How everything was coming apart, all the time, while also desperately trying to stay together.

I wouldn’t call Lilith a likable character, but she doesn’t need to be. She functions in many ways as pure desire: to take their desire and be taken. The book is a slow burn and should be enjoyed as such. The relationships are complicated—so take a hint from the characters: take your time. But what if we followed our narrators lead and simply dove headfirst into this story without any pause or time for breath? Like me, you’ll feel worn out by the end of the book. You’re rooting for a character whose name you don’t know, whose love is uncertain, but whose intentions are very clear: to be wanted. How many nights have you laid awake thinking about someone you know you shouldn’t be thinking about? Are Lilith and I alone in this, I think not.

Nash has a way of making conversations seem real and present, a feeling much like memory: perhaps a thing you’ve made or one you’ve witnessed. She scores Lilith’s journey with a playlist of Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, and others. And it’s that period of rock that has always held a special space in my heart; a period of taking and giving pain. There was no place for blood and then there was. Nash doesn’t shy from the grotesque, which is a refreshing quality from a debut novelist. Everything feels urgent in the moment because it feels like we may never get another, hopefully we all get to see another book from Nash.

Dzanc Books