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As Meat Loves Salt (Harvest Original) Paperback – January 7, 2003
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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.
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I loved and hated this novel at the same time. The back cover says that this is a dark erotic (nothing too graphic and not that much either) tale but it really is so much more. McCann weaves the dark and violent with sweet and innocent brilliantly. Jacob is really twisted; he has anger management issues and doesn't seem to be able to control himself when emotions take over. And yet as he goes through life hurting people, strangers as well as those he loves, I couldn't help but cheer for him and hope and beg of others for forgiveness (and a happy ending). What makes this book great is also what kept frustrating me. The destruction he leaves behind is painful, even revolting and he seems to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. It is like a train wreck that you see coming, over and over, and each time you are powerless to stop it and yet, yet you can't stop watching.
McCann has a wonderful way with words and seems to grasp realistically a way of speaking in 17th century England. The book is long but beautifully written (each word as necessary the others around it), the words seem to flow of the page so it doesn't take too long to get through it. She is one of those authors that can transport you into another time and place, straight into the lives of these characters.
Jacob Cullen is dark, muscular, and handsome, with a yen to master his surroundings. Coupled with his jealous rage, he has a problem and conflict in his life. He meets Ferris in Cromwell's army and, not realizing it at first, falls in love. He hopes, and needs, that this newcomer in his life will help him be the 'good' man he says he wants to be, and relieve him of the guilt he feels for former actions.
Theirs is a bumpy flight, but with moments of great poetry and passion. Jacob is not exactly likeable, but he is powerful, real, and erotic. And we want him to succeed. This is not a meagre achievement for any writer presenting such a conflicted character. One hopes for a happy ending for our questionable hero.
Kudos to Ms. McCann for a stunning gift which holds our interest from first word to last, in a big, potent, and human novel of true love and tragedy.
The book is set during the English revolution of Cromwell and Jacob Cullen is what today you will define a psychopath. For how much I liked him, yes, I did, I was probably liking the man I wanted him to be, the man he could have been if his illness was not making him a monster. When he was able to not listen to his devil inner voice, Jacob was almost a romantic hero; and even if he commits ugly actions, even uglier since they are against the ones he loves more, he is in pain after that... is it enough to make him a good man? No, unfortunately it's not, since the other Jacob, the one who is following the voice, is like the puppy who bites the hand that is feeding him, for no apparent reason if not that he believes that hand was feeding/loving someone else.
Jacob falls in love for Christopher, and Christopher for him; I truly believe it was love, and I truly believe Jacob is regretting the end of this love (and please don't be angry, this is not a real spoiler, it's enough to read any review, or even the blurb, to understand this is not an happily ever after story). Only a man in love could say to the voice (yes, Jacob "talks" with the voice...): "Why did You bid me drown the letter? I have lost something that he touched, and the destruction of it has gained You nothing, for now I no longer read the words, I hear them, as if he implored me face to face: Speak to me, Jacob, do not play the tyrant. Speak to me." Almost as a precise surgeon, the author chose these words, "Speak to me", to open and close the first time Jacob went to Christopher, exactly in the middle of the novel, and to close the book, right the last words before the End. Speak to me, Jacob, maybe Christopher was saying, Speak to me and not to your voice? Was Christopher aware that Jacob was crazy, that there was nothing to do to save him?
But there is nothing much to say, Jacob is ill, completely crazy, and for how much Christopher loves him, the other man has dreams that in the end he realizes cannot include Jacob, and that is the moment when Jacob will bite the hand who is feeding him, feeding him love.
You want passion, wrenching love, wonderful and original characters, perfectly carved setting? As Meat Loves Salt is your novel. You want sweet and romance, frilly dresses and comfortable feelings? Avoid this novel as a plague.
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