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IN BRIEF

Fiction

May 05, 1996|ERIKA TAYLOR

OMNIVORES by Lydia Millet (Algonquin: $17.95; 220 pp.). Family structures, male-female relationships and old-fashioned American greed are all twisted into grotesque mutations of their former selves in Lydia Millet's satirical first novel, "Omnivores." Estee Kraft is marking the calendar in anticipation of her 18th birthday, when she can finally leave the home of her mentally unbalanced invalid mother and mentally unbalanced sadistic father. Over the years, Bill Kraft has, in the name of science, tortured animals, murdered an old woman and imprisoned Estee. In his growing instability, Bill converts his house into an independent country and tries, with a small army, to secede from the nation. Eventually, Estee does leave home, only to become trapped by yet more omnivores engaging in cannibalism, love and betrayal, though not necessarily in that order.

Millet handles this sort of surreal, over-the-top fiction extremely well. Although "Omnivores" is unabashedly farcical, there is a strong thread of honest emotion and conflict between the characters. Millet supplies just enough authentic details of 1996 America to enhance the novel's function as a mirror for our culture. "Omnivores" reads like a cartoon with soul.

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