12 July 2008 — fuzzyhistory
It’s been a long time since a book held me in its grip so completely I was unable to put it down. Fortunately, it’s the weekend and I could tune out all but the narrator, Jacob Cullen.
To say Cullen is a troubled man is to gloss over what drives him. Impoverished at a young age and sent from his home with his brothers to serve a wealthy Royalist family during the English Civil War, Cullen grows up disillusioned, insecure and distrustful.
Within the first 100 pages, he commits murder (to thwart a charge of treason), theft (to survive) and rape (to claim what is his). You witness a man who is violent and, perhaps mad. When he escapes into the arms of the New Model Army, and his lover-to-be, you know his story will end badly. But because you see the world through Cullen’s eyes, you hope against all reason that somehow things will turn out alright.
They don’t. But not because As Meat Loves Salt is a work of historical fiction and therefore, the ending is known. History simply provides the environment. Weary of the war, Cullen and his lover, Christopher Ferris, escape to the home of Ferris’ wealthy Aunt. Eventually, Ferris’ involvement with radical political thinking leads him to organize a farming commune with the biblical implications of a New Jerusalem.
Ferris is opposite Cullen in almost every respect. He is slight and gentle to Cullen’s muscular build and violent ways. But he possesses an inner strength that Cullen has never had. He’s stubborn. About the commune, he is Cullen’s equal in obsessive behavior.
The tale, then, is not just about history. It’s about a relationship between men when one borders on the brink of insanity. It’s about a Puritan upraising and sexual confusion. In the words of the author, who I think says it best, “It’s about longing, about being cast out from happiness into a shattered world, about the fear that there is some evil inside you that drives others away. It’s about the possibilities that love holds out to people, its power to ennoble and to enslave. It’s about the futility of trying to hold on to love by force.” Rating: Excellent. (Click the image above to purchase the novel from Amazon. Fuzzy History receives a small commission for the referral.)