I don’t read a lot of thrillers, but, after seeing the cover of Eating Bull, I had to know what it was all about, especially the title. I discovered an extremely well-crafted medical/psychological thriller that tackles the subject of obesity and the food industry’s role in this serious health problem.
Set in Cleveland, Ohio, the story focuses on Jeremy Harjo Barton, an obese teenager, whose home life has without question contributed to his condition. His single mom, Connie Barton works two jobs and brings home greasy take-out every night. His agoraphobic grandfather spends his time berating Jeremy’s size and habits. It’s no better at school, where he’s harassed because of his weight. Now his health has become a bigger problem. At three hundred and ten pounds, Jeremy can hardly get around without reaching for his inhaler. He finds his only solace in playing his favorite video game, War of the Wilderness, with a stash of chips and candy bars at his side.
Desperate for a solution, Connie takes Jeremy to see Sue Fort, a nurse at the local health department, hoping Sue can help Jeremy lose weight. With Sue’s guidance and support, Jeremy seems to be on the right track. Small successes are good, but Sue sees a much bigger picture and urges the family to join her in a lawsuit against the food industry. Once in, Jeremy and Connie quickly learn what being at the center of this lawsuit means: a great deal of media exposure, particularly for Jeremy. Sue’s already in the hot seat at work for other controversial decisions. This lawsuit and exposure may be more than she can handle.
There’s a much bigger problem, however. A psychopath is lurking in the community. The self-named Darwin is on a sinister mission to kill as many obese people as possible, guided by a voice within him whose mantra is survival of the fittest. Darwin attacks his victims with an alarmingly vicious ferocity, making his hate clear. Once Jeremy’s story hits the news, Darwin knows what he has to do.
As the plots develop and threaten to merge, Rubin uses her keen understanding of human behavior to fill in the details and back stories, making Eating Bull more than just a mystery. A look at Darwin’s childhood offers an explanation but not an excuse for his actions. Rubin has also mastered the ability to describe situations through her characters’ points of view. Darwin’s hatred and contempt for the overweight comes through loud and clear. Jeremy’s teenage perspective is also realistic and telling.
Eating Bull is also a thoroughly hip story, with teenagers, marital conflict, and local color built into the plot, including a great deal of subtle commentary and humor. Small descriptions of décor and atmosphere enhance the reader’s understanding of the scene, some of it tongue-in-cheek. One of my favorites refers to a meeting in attorney Sammy Sanchez’s office:
“A cloud of vanilla-scented mist sprayed from an automatic air-freshener on a shelf behind him.”
Regarding the problems of obesity, Rubin tackles the question of who’s to blame with fairness. Good and bad characters raise valuable points on both sides of the argument, which keeps the story from becoming preachy.
As the story continues, Rubin introduces a number of shady characters with alarming traits and makes the reader question just who Darwin could be. Early clues tempt the reader to guess, but a full read is required for the story to play out to its wild and satisfying finish.
A great suspenseful read wrapped around an important social and health issue.
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