My rating: 5 of 5 stars
How do you write about a book like this? Wait. Let me take a breath. Then a step back. Then another. We begin again.
When I read Hanya Yanagihara’s, “A Little Life”, I scarcely believed, I would find another book that moved me like it again. Over the years, there were some wonderful reads. And then Maria McCann’s As Meat Loves Salt finds its way to me, and the first thing I am struck by, is the title. How much it conveys – the attraction, the chemistry, the saltiness, and sultriness. I struggle with the words even now, but all at once I knew this book was trouble.
It is dark, deep, sensuous as wine over swollen lips. Erotic in a way love between men often is – heady and intoxicating, ravaging, pungent, thirsting. How many words are there for erotic? I will use them all. This book is long, deep, heavy, and exhausting. But it is stupendous and if you miss reading it, you are a fool. A sucker for love and romances, I hurtled headlong into Jacob Cullen’s telling of the story of his life and his passion, Christopher Ferris. Parts of their love are tender enough to melt you into a pot of treacle. Other parts are riveting and terrifying. There is no dearth of violence as one affords Herculean men like Jacob (“My honey. My Samson.”) who scarce know their own strength. And when they do, know also how to make use of it, for Jacob’s overwhelming physique and brute strength are his hamartia; his tragic flaw, and one that costs him what he loves again and again.
Jacob is a murderer. He is a sodomite. He is a rapist. But he is unforgettable. Reviews of the book have been quick to brand the protagonist as a sociopath, psychotic even. And while Jacob could probably do with a bit of anger management, he is not a bad man. Rather, a good man who does bad things. Jacob lacks the drop-dead good looks and charm of his brother, Zebedee and the integrity of his older brother Isaiah. To make matters worse, he is an aggressive, nay, violent man and his violence is tied very closely to his ideas of love and his easily-roused insecurities. Reading, as his temper rises, my fists began to clutch at my sides – not because I felt fear of Jacob, but fear for what destruction his anger would bring about this time. But what is it about Jacob, or the way he is portrayed that makes it so bloody difficult to damn him? This is to me, the writer’s craft. For Maria McCann loves her protagonist and makes a struggle of it for us to revile the sinner he is, and instead, we cover our mouths in horror as he goes on a rampage of aggression he will no doubt soon regret.
This book is the reading equivalent of three double espressos, followed by a couple of cans of Red Bull. Feel your blood rise and the heart thump inside your head. Feel your wrists twitch and your hand worrying your brow. It is not a passive read. It stimulates you, it engages you and by that, I do not mean it invites you in. I mean it grabs hold of your hand and wrests you in. You run when it is time to run. You sleep on the foul-smelling straw. You eat the rubbery eel pies and tremble at your imaginary erection when Jacob sees Ferris slip his shirt over his shoulders. Your neck is damp when they make love, your throat dries up when Jacob bristles and your heart sinks when he is betrayed again.
Jacob is every bit a fuck up. A ruined and lost man. The kind of man your friends tell you to stay the hell away from. He is defective and his way of thinking, acting, and responding, the landscape of Disturbia. But you’re in for the penny, in for the pound. You cannot tear yourself away. At 585 pages, it was over too soon.
I wept at this love. At how it turns an Atlas into a puppy at the feet of the beloved. How this stupid man is as weak at heart as he is strong of body and believes, despite all else, that he is unworthy of a complete, wholesome love. Beautiful and damned, Jacob is the Judas in us all that is left to wander the desert of the world for his crimes. Let me warn you, this book will hurt. It will sadden you. It will pull out from your recesses your hidden pain, your shrugged-off rejections, your ignored brokenness. In Jacob’s struggle for the Self within the self, you will find something of your own. And you will come to lose it.
Easily the finest writing I have read this year.