Hunger of the Beast by John Driver
Jove, 1st edition, 1991
Genre: horror, total crap, trashy novel
Back cover copy:
It was the perfect hideaway for Dianna’s country weekend.
A place she could be alone.
So private … so secluded …
No one would ever find her there.
Except for Esau.
He lives in the cellar.
And Esau is developing an appetite.
For something soft … something warm …
Now the Wilkinsons have a present for him.
Pleasant dreams, Dianna.
Synopsis & Review: Dianna LaBianca is a theatre producer in New York City. Dissatisfied by her career and a break up with her married lover, she decides to get away from it all by staying in a remote New England inn for a few weeks. After nearly crashing her car on the way, the place where she had reservations is a smoldering ruin when she arrives. She finally finds accommodation at the unprepossessing Wilkinson Inn: four rooms, extensive grounds, stables, and a very unpleasant staff. And then there’s Esau.
Dianna’s stay begins pleasantly; though there is one other guest, he’s affable and attractive, and he and Dianna soon hit it off, quickly becoming lovers. Dianna begins riding again, something she gave up in her youth after a traumatic jump gone awry. And she spends time being alone, exercising her understanding of Zen. Then one morning she wakes up to see a startling confrontation between the inn’s dog Launcelot and a monstrosity.
The monstrosity is Esau, scion of the Wilkinson family. Born hunchbacked, deformed, and colossally retarded, his birth killed his mother, and at age nine he beat his father to death with a baseball bat. But Esau just wants to be booteful, and to love bootefuls and be loved by them. And now Dianna is his chosen booteful.
I found this squalid tome at Kapiolani Hospital when I was waiting for my mother to get off from work sometime during my seventh grade year. (Hospitals are great repositories of shitty books; people waiting there are captives to racks of the worst mass market paperbacks. When my mother was dying, I read a lot of Smithsonians and a singularly awful book called Neanderthal.) Years later all I could really recall were the nipples (oh god, the nipples!), the killer retard, and the climax wherein SPOILER ALERT—not that you care, but it’s only fair warning—Dianna Superglues a plastic patch over her vagina to stop Esau from smelling her ladyparts and going apeshit and raping her. Because that’s basically the whole conflict: Esau wants some, and no woman in her right mind wants to give it up to him. (Of course, when he did get some once years before, he killed the girl And also because he a grotesque killer retard, in case you haven’t noticed.
John Driver—who apparently also wrote a few plays and the Shogun: The Musical script, which will be referred to in the book, because he is not afraid of self-promotion!—treats the subjects of giant, mutant killer retards with kindness and sensitivity … sensitivity like a rock. Esau’s lines are all gems like, “Booteful” and “Ahhh-gahhhh! Wooooowga!” And lest we forget, also the immortal “Gaaagafag. Eeeee-haaaa. Neeeda.” I shit you not. His inner monologue consists of lines like “Esau want be outside. Esau like big place. Can run. Big place have living things. Good smells.” He also rapes a horse to demonstrate his virility to Dianna, by the way. This really is taking the Faulknerian idiot manchild conceit to an astonishingly new low.
Diann’s also a pretty heinous character, to be fair. She is incredibly uninteresting and unpleasant, despite Driver’s efforts to make her complex by making her a Buddhist/Catholic, a guilt-ridden adulteress, a trauma survivor (because falling off a horse just wrecks your world, you know), a reluctant capitalist, and freakishly-nippled. Because she is indeed freakishly-nippled. Though they are only mentioned twice in the book (pages 47 and 101 if you’re curious), both references are so bizarre that I remembered them nearly two decades later:
She was just a touch on the busty side, with unusually full nipples, to an extent that sometimes gave her grief. Once, when Dianna made an appearance at the office in T-shirt sans bra, she caused such comment and distraction that getting work done that day became almost impossible. (47)
When he slipped off her bra, he drew in a breath at the sight of her nipples. “Jesus.” He bent down and ran his tongue and lips over her breasts until the tips were like plump, inch-long stones. (101)
EWWWWWWWW. I’m a visual person, and those images are just gross.
Due to the nature of the plot, there’s a lot of time spent with Dianna alone in her room dwelling on what she could have done to deserve this and whether she should kill herself. Instead of thrilling, the novel is a stultifying ramble. Oh, there she is trying to escape. There she is dwelling on her past. There she is having a Zen epiphany. Yep, she’s taking another bath. Oh, now she’s taunting the man-beast. Classy. Oh, there she goes dwelling over whether it’s right to kill Esau. Yay.
Driver also tries desperately to tart up his crapfest with trite pseudo-feminism and philosophy. According to the About the Author, he’s a second-degree black belt and studied Zen philosophy for many years. Unfortunately, he never learned how to skillfully integrate koans and faux-philosophical musings into a narrative in any way that didn’t smack of patronizing effort. Instead, his efforts only cheapen his already labored prose, dulling it further, rendering it impotent.
Neither thrilling nor interesting, Hunger of the Beast was best forgotten. Too bad I couldn’t–thanks to the Superglue and nipples. I might just turn this into a chain-novel: you receive it, you have to read it, or else your nipples will become freakishly large magnets for attention.
Cover: Some tawdry blonde pressed against a mirror, poised to, to, I don’t even know what. Is she pleasuring herself, or inviting someone else to join? Then there are crossbars of killer eyes (nothing like Esau’s, unfortunately). It looks like something from the Suspense section of the video stores, what we employees referred to as the soft-core or Skinemax aisle.
Read also: Nothing is like this. Maybe a novelization of Wrong Turn? Something by Laymon? Didn’t John Saul write some killer retards? I hear Stephen King finally published Blaze.
Trying to live up to his twisted vision of how he should behave–how he should act in order to be romantic–Esau lifted Anne in his arms.
Esau be booteful. Do booteful thing.
He intended to casually put her on a low headstone, but Esau didn’t know how strong he was and the result was that he ended up throwing the girl down at his feet.
Esau not mean to do that.
Anne’s head hit a gravestone and there was a crack of ribs breaking against sharp rock. She tried to cry out, but the splintered bones sent stabs of excruciating pain into her lungs and only the faintest whimper emerged from her lips.
Booteful his now. She ‘ove Esau.
Mercifully, her mind was a fading haze as Esau’s weight crushed down upon her. Before she could be aware of anything, her vision erupted into pinwheels of red stars and black dots, and Anne passed out.
11 September – 12 September