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As Meat Loves Salt (Harvest Original) Paperback – January 7, 2003

4.2 out of 5 stars 119 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

With her first book, As Meat Loves Salt, Maria McCann joins a small, esteemed company of writers--Umberto Eco and Gore Vidal among them--whose historical novels are meticulously researched, politically acute, and rattling good reads. Set in the 17th century, during the English civil war, As Meat Loves Salt follows the misadventures of Jacob, born a gentleman but raised a servant, whose overdeveloped sense of personal dignity leads him from one crisis to another. When the book opens, he is already a murderer. Within a hundred pages he becomes a rapist and a thief. All this is perfect training for a military career, and Jacob soon finds himself in Cromwell's New Model army and in thrall to a charismatic man named Ferris. "It was all pre-ordained," says Jacob later, when the men have deserted together, "there had never been a place where I could have leapt free of the net." Rich with period detail, multilayered, and erotic, this is a big, delicious novel with a hint of crunchy intellection. Expect a lost weekend. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

The 17th-century English revolution serves as backdrop to this brilliant, ambitious epic, the story of a compelling antihero who struggles against his own violent tendencies to little avail. Jacob Cullen, the well-intentioned but volatile narrator, is forced to flee his wedding ceremony with bride Caro and brother Zebedee when he learns that he is about to be accused of a murder he rashly committed, perhaps in self-defense. Shocked by Jacob's brutality, Caro takes off with Zeb, and the bereft Jacob is forced to become a soldier in Cromwell's army after being rescued by a soldier named Christopher Ferris. When Christopher deserts, he brings Jacob with him, giving him shelter in his family home in London. Their friendship, already charged, slips gradually into clandestine romance, and the two become passionate lovers. The trajectory of their relationship shapes the second half of the novel, as does a utopian project undertaken by Christopher with Jacob's help. Disillusioned with society, Christopher attempts to cobble together a tiny, independent farming colony, an effort that brings out the bully in Jacob and strains their relationship as the authorities move in to break up the group. Jacob, meanwhile, edges closer to learning the fate of Caro and Zebedee. The first half of McCann's narrative is rather slow moving, but she does a superb job of mustering historical detail and atmosphere in the service of a stunning character portrait of the troubled but charismatic Jacob. The scope of the narrative, the unusual conceit and the resonant writing combine to make this a powerful, unusual debut.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Series: Harvest Original
  • Paperback: 565 pages
  • Publisher: Harvest Books; 1 edition (January 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 015601226X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156012263
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #630,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
When I first finished this novel, I felt a terrible need to get it out of my sight. I couldn't return it to the library since it was about two in the morning, so I hid it under a pile of clothes in my closet. Such was the impact this story had on me - I could barely stand to keep it in my house.
Sound terrible? Well, it was, but in the best kind of way. I suffered through everything with Jacob Cullen, Maria McCann's fascinating narrator. Jacob is somewhat schizophrenic and completely obsessed with violence, but like most people he has his own (flawed) reasons for what he does. He doesn't hate himself, so in seeing everything from his perspective it becomes difficult to hate him for his actions. One also becomes aware of every possibility he has to improve himself and his life. Christopher Ferris, Jacob's lover, is the kind of person any man or woman could (and does) fall for, passionately. This makes it all the more horrifying to be trapped in Jacob's mind as he watches everything good in his life come to ruin. The ending, as gut-wrenching as it is, seems inevitable given that it's brought on by Jacob and Ferris both being true to who they are, for better or worse. There's no escape.
It's also worth noting that much could have gone wrong in the craft of this book, but didn't - quite the opposite. Not only is there the difficulty of narrating from Jacob's point of view (the mystery that is Jacob is dribbled out in the smallest hints, dreams or passing thoughts, never given too quickly), but also the story stretches from a manor house to London to the common fields, and it's all covered in compelling detail. The language, too, never falters in successfully blending 17th-century and modern.
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I finished this book about 4 hours ago and I feel like I have been on an emotional roller coaster. I actually feel disoriented and dizzy by this wonderful tragic book. I would have to say that this is one of the most intense reading experiences I have ever had. It opened me up and challenged me emotionally like few books or films have ever accomplished. I may read it again some day but not soon. I say this because this book is so realistic and tragic that it is painful.

Maria McCann gives us fair warning when she begins her story with a brutal murder, yet romantic idealist that I am, I kept hope alive in my heart that Jacob Cullen would overcome his dark interior voices and that he and Christopher Ferris would mature into a mutually supportive male-male couple. I hoped this to the final bleak and heartbreaking pages.

We see the world narrated through the eyes of Jacob Cullen, who maintains control of his irrational violent impulses 99% of the time, however, when he is threatened or hurt, he becomes a terror, a Dark Angel. McCann carefully allows us to see deeper and deeper into the disturbed mind of Jacob. He rationlizes much of his hostility and violence and I didn't fully understand until I was 75% of the way through the book as to how dangerous Jacob really is. He suffers so much for his actions that I empathized with him until the final 2 chapters when he facilitated the destruction of Christopher Ferris' world. When a love affair ends, there are those who will go to extremes to re-ignite the flames of passion, and if this does not work, they will seek the total destruction of their past lover. Jacob Cullen is one of these folks.

I hoped that Jacob's paranoid schizophrenic violent nature would be "cured" by his love for Christopher Ferris, his lover.
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10 Comments 73 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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By A Customer on May 22, 2003
Format: Paperback
Wow! I just finished reading this book and am still reeling from it. I do not remember the last time I read a novel that made me feel so much so deeply. Moments from the story keep replaying in my mind, as if I had lived them . . .
It is sad to read reviewers casually dismissing this book's narrator as unlikable. Jacob Cullen is twisted, but I find him darkly alluring. During the novel, he alternately reveals his intelligence, his resourcefulness, his idealism, his selfishness, his willingness to please, his paranoia, his shame, his sexual magnetism, and his capacity for cruelty. Still, he does not easily reduce to any of these. If he has one distinguishing characteristic, it is his brooding, passionate nature. Someone flippantly asked why anyone would want to read a novel about such an unpleasant man. The answer is that this sullen protagonist leads a richly textured emotional life, which McCann communicates with alarming power and precision. This book challenges the reader to feel the sprawling beauty and ugliness of Jacob and his world. As such, McCann's talent is a welcome tonic to our current era's numb complacency and tidy compartmentalization of affect.
This novel unsettles because life is unsettling. Love, desire, vulnerability and obsession fold in and out of each other, with violence limning the contours. McCann's novel somehow manages to capture this great big mess in all of its sadness and glory. Reading this novel made me feel my own life anew. I can think of no better praise.
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