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I just finished reading As Meat Loves Salt. It was an extraordinary… - Tactical Ninja

Jun. 22nd, 2015

10:30 am

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I just finished reading As Meat Loves Salt. It was an extraordinary read, one of those rare books that brings you so fully into its world that finishing it and returning to reality is almost painful.


The most glib description I've seen is 'tragic gay porn' but I think that's doing it a disservice. You spend the story inside the head of Jacob, a violent man of obsessive passions, who some have suggested is a sociopath but I'm pretty convinced is slowly succumbing to schizophrenia. The story begins as he is forced through his own behaviour to run away from his position as a servant, then immediately alienates the only people who might support him through more despicable acts.

Found starving on the road by the New Model Army, he joins and there meets Ferris, who quickly becomes the object of his obsession. After a beautifully described and particularly violent seige, they desert the army and travel to London where they become lovers. I won't reveal any more of the plot, but let's just say it's tragic, and Jacob brings it all on himself. Even at the last, when it seems external factors are at play, Jacob's failure to act destroys his last chance at redemption.

It sounds like a bloody awful read, eh? Why would you want to spend all those hours reading about someone tearing himself and everyone he loves apart violently? Well, the author's skill is such that I found myself empathising with this horrible man. Not sympathising, empathising. Some of the things Jacob does are horrific, yet the reader feels them as he does - and while this doesn't redeem him, it allows a glimpse of understanding. It's a delicate balance, understanding without condoning, and the author strikes it beautifully. You feel as he feels, the loss of control, the self-loathing, the rationalisation, and the book unrelentingly drags you along with Jacob's descent into obsessive delusion. I found myself wanting a happy ending for Jacob despite how I loathed his behaviour.

I think, on reflection, that most of us can identify with at least some of what goes on in Jacob's head. We feel the passions he feels, and watching him become a slave to them has a touch of "There but for the grace of god go I." And if I'm completely honest, some of it is deliciously erotic as well - and that's the thing. Once you've committed to this book you are along for the ride, the bad and the good, and a ride it most definitely is - an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions that is so absorbingly rendered that the inside of your own head feels a bit pale and washed out when you return to it. And every time Jacob destroys another chance at happiness, the knife twists in your own heart. It's brutal, and beautiful, at the same time.

It bears saying again that it's also intensely erotic. Let's not forget that. Passion is as passion does, etc.


I find myself wanting to pick it up and reread it, even though I know that all my wishing won't make Jacob make different choices a second time. It says something, though, that I care at all. Usually I finish a book and move on to the next one. My next book is one written by a friend of mine, and to do her decent service I must wait till As Meat Loves Salt has let me go. It might be a while.

I haven't had a work of fiction take hold of me like that since Dragon Age 2. That was another descent-into-madness tragedy that chewed me up and spat me out, and it still haunts me. I think this one will too.

One thing, though. I don't think I've ever read fiction about a homosexual relationship between men, that wasn't written by a woman. Recommendations, please.

Comments:

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From:randomdreams
Date:June 21st, 2015 11:20 pm (UTC)
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I know a thing or two about fiction about homosexual relationships between men, written by men... but they're not good. At all.
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From:tatjna
Date:June 21st, 2015 11:23 pm (UTC)
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Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Witi Ihimaera was recommended to me in another forum, so I looked it up on GoodReads and found this review:

"Firstly: how much do you enjoy thinking about cock? Because this book is about 60% cock, and the cock ratio is even higher in the first half. Cock. The POV character thinks about cock a lot. His cock, other people's cocks, his cock again. COCK. If you don't enjoy sort of voyeuristically thinking about fictional cocks, this may not be the book for you."

I'm not averse to reading about cock so I'm giving it a go. Meanwhile, McCann manages to bung in tons of steamy sex without saying cock once, and without coming across as being painfully euphemistic either.
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From:randomdreams
Date:June 22nd, 2015 12:38 am (UTC)
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The one I was thinking of used 'dork' a lot. Like "I dorked him in the bathroom stall."

HOWEVER! The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has homosexuality -- although it's not the focus of the book -- and is really excellent.
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From:tatjna
Date:June 22nd, 2015 12:42 am (UTC)
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I walk down Dorking Road evry morning and now I will never look at it the same way again.
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From:randomdreams
Date:June 22nd, 2015 03:08 am (UTC)
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My mission here is done.
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From:decemberthirty
Date:June 22nd, 2015 03:24 am (UTC)
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So glad you read it! And it is nice to see that your feelings about it seem quite similar to mine, especially the sense that "the inside of your own head feels a bit pale and washed out when you return to it." I certainly felt that way after finishing the book--it gave me the conflicting desires to pick the book right back up and read it again, and to never touch it or look at it again, ever. I don't know why schizophrenia didn't occur to me, but it really makes a lot of sense.

As for fiction about relationships between men that is also written by men, I certainly recommend E.M. Forster's Maurice, or his wonderful short story "The Other Boat." Also, anything by Colm Tóibín, especially his short fiction and extra especially his novella "The Street." Giovanni's Room or Another Country by James Baldwin. The Folded Leaf by William Maxwell (no actual sex in this one, but it is subtle and beautiful and wonderful and totally underrated.) A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (better than the movie!) At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O'Neill. I could probably go on, so let me know if you want more....
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From:tatjna
Date:June 22nd, 2015 03:30 am (UTC)
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That's probably enough to go on with for the time being, but thanks! ;-)

But I may have to give the genre a bit of a break. It took me a few months to stop being obsessed/haunted by DA2, and this seems like a similar level of emotional intensity. Based on that I should not try to read anything similar for a while..
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From:decemberthirty
Date:June 22nd, 2015 04:54 am (UTC)
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Well, not all of the books in that list attain the same level of intensity as As Meat Loves Salt. Still, it's probably a good idea to take a break. I'm just now reading the first book about a gay male relationship since As Meat Loves Salt, and even six months later I can't help feeling that this new book feels a bit thin. Where's that amazing overabundance of passion that Maria McCann did so well?
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From:goddessofchaos
Date:June 22nd, 2015 09:08 am (UTC)
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I've added that to my list of books I want to read, because it sounds interesting.

I have read books about homosexual relationships written by men, but can't think off the top of my head of any that were actually good...
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From:richaarde
Date:June 22nd, 2015 01:55 pm (UTC)
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You're right. Everything you just described a storyline that is absurd and awful. But you finished the book, so it couldn't have been that bad.
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From:tatjna
Date:June 22nd, 2015 09:51 pm (UTC)
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It wasn't just not-bad, it was actually good. Compelling, even. Takes skill, that, I reckon.
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From:kehleyr
Date:July 9th, 2015 04:53 pm (UTC)
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one of those rare books that brings you so fully into its world that finishing it and returning to reality is almost painful. Oh I LOVE books like that! Need to check this one out!
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