David Louis Edelman David Louis Edelman

Roy Lewis’s “The Evolution Man, or How I Ate My Father”

Roy Lewis's 'The Evolution Man'This book review was originally published in the Baltimore Evening Sun on October 15, 1993.

Published without fanfare some thirty years ago in England, Roy Lewis’ Evolution Man: Or, How I Ate My Father has been rescued from the bowels of obscurity by Italian publisher Roberto Calasso. And this comic tale of Pleistocene civilization is quite a find, blending the primal power and oddity of Kafka’s and Calvino’s parables with a heavy seasoning of Monty Python humor.

The Evolution Man follows the struggle of a small tribe of cavemen in northern Africa as they try to keep one step ahead of Mother Nature. This nameless band of pre-humans has many of the same conceits and concerns that we have today: finding the perfect cave for the whole family (hopefully bear-free), keeping a successful marriage without resorting to a swing of the club, and figuring out how to make ends meet in a dwindling economy when Dad’s accidentally burned down the nearby forest.

While Roy Lewis’s The Evolution Man is filled with Cro-Magnon humor, the book has much more simmering in its prehistoric pot than gags about stone tablet typewriters. Beneath its mammoth-skin covering, the book wrestles with the very idea of technology and how far humanity should take it, from the point of view of a culture where turning back to all fours was a tangible possibility.

Lewis’s cavemen and women are well aware that they’re living at the end of the Pleistocene era, and they discuss their plight in mock-sophisticated English drawing room language. The narrator’s father Edward, in fact, is preoccupied to the point of distraction by the tribe’s backwardness, insisting that there’s a better way to live than chewing on raw buffalo and running up the side of volcanos for fire. He not only wants a controllable source of combustion, but domestic pets, high-tech weaponry, and capital-A Art for future generations to admire.

Soon, however, Father’s tinkering with the Way Things Are begins to upset the rest of the tribe. Uncle Vanya takes the role of the neanderthal Rush Limbaugh, insisting that Edward is too preoccupied with his highfalutin’ ideas to keep humanity shuffling along on the orderly trail of Nature. The narrator starts to wonder if Father’s fudging around with the Natural Order should be stopped — at any cost.

Along with a brontosaurus-sized sense of humor, The Evolution Man offers a cynical theory about why humanity can never progress at more than a snail’s pace: technology eradicates our sense of security and accomplishment. True visionaries like the tribal father Edward will never be accepted by the large portion of the people, because they disturb the precarious nest of ideas that humanity arranges for its own sanity.

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  1. Daniel Campero on February 10, 2009 at 7:37 am  Chain link

    Great book, shows the mankind thinking about survive in a time when that isn’t so easy than nowadays, I’m doing a course conclusing job and find this blog looking for this book I had read when I has twelve, how a man could see the life by different points of view. Great blog too, congratulations! Regards from Brasil!

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