Books on GIF #85 — 'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion' by Margaret Killjoy

Welcome to the latest edition of Books on GIF, the animated alternative to boring book reviews. This Sunday's book is 'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion' by Margaret Killjoy.
Before we get into it, I want to recommend this week's excellent installment of The New Yorker's fiction podcast which features Ottessa Moshfegh reading a 2015 piece by Sheila Heti. It's absolutely riveting, full of insights not only about Heti's excellent 'My Life is a Joke,' but also about life, death, the afterlife and the dynamics between men and women. (Also, The New Yorker recently published this interesting profile of Moshfegh by Ariel Levy.) You may remember that I reviewed Moshfegh's weird and wonderful 'Homesick for Another World' last week, and that I gushed over Heti's profound 'How Should a Person Be?' a few weeks ago. Anyway, let's move along:

I found 'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion' on the staff picks shelf at the Strand. A worker named June recommended it. The cover design and the title were enough to pique my interest, but when I flipped the novela-sized book over and read that it's about a group of anarchist-punk squatters who summon a demon, in the form of a deer, to protect them from police and other authority figures, I was like:

It begins with Danielle, the protagonist, arriving in Freedom, Iowa, to investigate the suicide of a close friend who had once lived there. Freedom was once a standard-issue town, but for reasons I don't remember it was abandoned. It had since become a squatter-punk utopia, and as Danielle walks into town she spots the crimson deer with red eyes and three antlers right away. The deer is super creepy, like:

The townspeople explain that the deer, named Uliksi, is a demon summoned from a nearby river who kills only predators (human or animal) or people who would exert power over others. Some of them worship it like a benevolent protector. But, of course, whenever you place trust in a demon, things go haywire. Shortly after Danielle's arrival, Uliksi suddenly jumps a beloved resident, like:

From here, the story gets really nutty. It somehow falls to Danielle to solve the deer issue; beyond the fact that she's the main character of the book, I didn't understand why this was her problem. Danielle and another woman have to go to the gas station where the deer sleeps at night to find some notebooks that contain secrets and then take the notebooks to a woman who lives in a treehouse that has a magic stone outside that wards off evil spirits and then do a thing where the demon would either go away or become a bigger demon. Or something. The plan was as coherent as that long sentence, or as this deer trampling through a bar:
You could argue that a story with a demonic deer has no need for logic, but come on. There were some wall-banger problems here. For example, as Danielle and the other woman, Brynn, approach Uliksi's gas station lair, they find it's surrounded by zombie animals. They have to run really fast to get past them before they can close a gate to escape. As they are doing this Danielle gets bitten on the hand by a zombie goat, then they are charged by a zombie bull. They evade the bull, close the fence, find the notebooks and then the chapter ends. When the next chapter begins, they're already at the treehouse. I was like, um, hello, how did they escape the zombie animals waiting outside?! I was like:
Oh, and Danielle's bite from a zombie goat? Not a big deal. Cleared up right away. No danger at all. Again:
I can't tell you how Danielle solved the creature problem, or why her friend killed himself, because the explanations don't really make any sense. I think guilt and the solstice have something to do with it. Even so, I like this book. It's weird, and that made it charming and fun! I like that it was really earnest in its descriptions of anarchy theory and self-governance; I feel like I learned a lot about that. I like the demonic deer. I like that Danielle was a strong and independent lead character, and it was fun to imagine my IRL friend Danielle telling these squatters what's what. And I really like its positive and straightforward portrayal of gay, non-binary and transgender people. They aren't played for shock value or to be provocative. They are just normal townspeople, as it should be. We need more of that in literature. So if you're looking for a crazy summer read, give this a book a look. And thanks for the recommendation, June!

My rating:

'The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion' by Margaret Killjoy was published by Tor.com in 2017. 125 pages. $13.49 at Strand Book Store.

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In case you missed it: Books on GIF #84 featured 'Homesick for Another World' by Ottessa Moshfegh.

What's next: In two weeks you'll get a review of 'My Boyfriend is a Bear' by Pamela Ribon and Cat Farris. Also in the queue are 'Basic Black With Pearls' by Helen Weinzweig, 'Trick' by Domenico Starnone and 'The Rent Collector' by Camron Wright, among others.

Send your recommendations: If you've got a bestseller, a classic or a forgotten gem you want me to review, shoot me an email anytime.

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Thanks for reading, and thanks especially to Donna for editing this review!

Until next time,
MPV