Elle Nash’s Animals Eat Each Other is a poignant debut that’s every bit as sharp and cutting as the barb of a scorpion’s tail. The story explores topics of intimacy, desire, and betrayal in relationships and how sometimes what people crave the most causes the direst consequences. It is a striking representation of the human dichotomy as fragile, but also venomous, and how people often hurt each other when they are at their most vulnerable.
From the beginning of Animals Eat Each Other, the unnamed protagonist is careening toward the edge. Her hometown life is cramped by a reclusive mother, a cluttered trailer, and a dead end job. She is a hopeless romantic that yearns for more but seeks fulfillment in the wrong places. Then one day, she is introduced to a couple, Matt and Frankie, and is given the opportunity to break free from the constraints of her everyday existence.
For a while, the protagonist’s gloom is muted by the excitement of her new relationship with Matt and Frankie. They welcome her into their fold with a fresh kind of pain, new tattoos, public humiliation at Wal-Mart, and rough sex, but these things only seem to pull the protagonist deeper. As time goes on, her bond with the couple becomes more complex, and the means she is willing to use to remain linked to them become more twisted.
The protagonist’s identity shifts as she grows closer to Matt and Frankie, signified through her naming as Lilith. The rules of the relationship dynamic as well as the use of a nickname create boundaries that deny Lilith’s sense of belonging, and the more she tries to push the limitations, the more bestial her spirit becomes. Matt and Frankie are dating and also have a child together, which complicates Lilith’s untamed desires and causes her to realize that her position in the triad is unsustainable.
The deterioration of Lilith’s relationships and her interior suffering manifests in physical self-destruction, as the line between pleasure and pain blurs and hope dissolves. It is the confluence of these interactions, the tender and the violent that swirl together like a cyclone tearing apart the world that Lilith has maintained. She tries to pick up the pieces, but they are littered in all directions. The psychological aftermath causes her to dissect further the balance of her reality, and how she must survive, in her own way, and in her own time.
Animals Eat Each Other sinks into the reader like a jagged stone through sand, and will surely inhabit a space in many people’s hearts. Nash’s voice is raw and captivating, with vulnerability at the tip of her tongue. The story tests the levels of comfortability that people have with their bodies, and the bodies around them, and how the ways humans communicate with themselves and others is often more animal than they would like to admit. It is a riveting debut that will keep the reader engrossed and leave them aching with anticipation for what Nash will write in the future.