One of the fiercest annual political/social battles in Minnesota is fought over deer. This year was no exception. Some folks in metro-area suburbs want bowhunters to cull the herds. Others argue passionately that a "controlled" hunt is not the answer.
That's the timely argument at the center of "Cute Eats Cute," Minnesotan C.B. Murphy's debut novel.
In this satirical coming-of-age story, 15-year-old Sam is torn between his parents' ideologies. His mom is devoted to her Wiccan gatherings; his dad works for the Department of Natural Resources. (The book's title refers to the fact that animals, no matter how cute they are, prey on one another.)
When Sam's dad has to implement a plan to cull the herd in a local park, battle lines are drawn in Sam's family. His mom and her friends are opposed to killing animals, even though his dad points out that the deer are eating all the foliage. Sam isn't sure where he stands, although he thinks he's anti-hunt because he wants to be a hero in the eyes of his classmate Megan, an animal-rights activist.
Sam goes along with Megan when she tells him he has to go against his dad to show he's his own person. But when Sam, Megan and a couple friends free deer from a research facility late at night, at the urging of a sort-of creepy adult activist the guerrilla action backfires in a bloody way.
After some humiliation for Sam when his dad comes to the school to give a talk dressed in what his son considers a dorky DNR uniform, Megan urges Sam to infiltrate the enemy. These are a bunch of Christian guys, known as Hunters of Men, who have been hired to kill the deer.
The last quarter of the story is set in opposing camps, one for the hunters, one for the protesters. Sam wanders between them, still not sure where his sympathies lie. He's been reading a book about a Native American boy who goes on a vision quest, and when he's in the woods he has a sort of mind-meld with a legendary buck who "tells" Sam he's willing to die.
Sam's a nice kid who's trying to figure out his philosophy of life, and some of his bafflement is funny. But Murphy tries to skewer so many hot-button issues in his 234-pge novel that controversy about the hunt sometimes get lost.
For instance, a day care that Sam attended as a child is run by two lesbians, one of whom seems to have a flirty relationship with his dad. There's a right-wing radio commentator, an abortion, talk about gun control and a flaky therapist who doesn't do Sam's family much good.
Still, these are the tensions of our times, and Sam experiences them the way all teens do — in fragments as they affect his life.
"Cute Eats Cute" isn't a mystery, but we won't reveal the conclusion. Let's just say Murphy deftly figures a way to be fair to every point of view.
Murphy, a resident of Marine on St. Croix and a University of Minnesota graduate, was a cartoonist for the Chicago Reader, which ran his weekly comic strip. The Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art selected one of his cartoon books, "January is Alien Registration Month," for its permanent Artists' Books collection. He's also a filmmaker whose work has been screened around the United States, including at the Walker Art Center.
Mary Ann Grossmann