Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Publisher: JCP Books
Pages/Word Count: 300 Pages
Rating: 5 Stars
Blurb: Desmond Poole is damaged in more ways than one. If he was an underachiever before, he’s entirely useless now that he’s lost his right hand. He spends his time drowning his sorrows in vodka while he deliberately blows off the training that would help him master his new prosthetic. Social Services seems determined to try and stop him from wallowing in his own filth, so he’s forced to attend an amputee support group. He expects nothing more than stale cookies, tepid decaf and a bunch of self-pitying sob stories, so he’s blindsided when a fellow amputee catches his eye.
Corey Steiner is a hot young rudeboy who works his robotic limb like an extension of his own body, and he’s smitten by Desmond’s crusty punk rock charm from the get-go. Unfortunately, Desmond hasn’t quite severed ties with his ex-boyfriend, and Corey isn’t known for his maturity or patience.
Meatworks is set in a bleak near-future where cell phone and personal computer technologies never developed. In their place, robotics flourished. Now robots run everything from cars to coffee pots. Taking the guesswork out of menial tasks was intended to create leisure time, but instead robots have made society dependent and passive.
Desmond loathes robots and goes out of his way to avoid them. But can he survive without the robotic arm strapped to the end of his stump?
Review: If someone were doing a case study on the psychology behind self-destructive behavioral tendencies triggered by traumatic injury and subsequent dysmorphic issues, Desmond Poole would make for an interesting test subject. I just made that up. There’s probably no such thing, but that’s Des in a nutshell. Does it make him an unreliable narrator? Nope. If anything, I’d say he’s one of the most honest first person narrators I’ve ever read.
Des is the self-described asshole and antihero in Jordan Castillo Price’s latest novel Meatworks, a near-futuristic, sci-fi story in which robotics have become a norm designed to make life simpler for humans—until the machine turns on the man. Then, in Desmond’s case, those modern conveniences become a source of resentment and a reminder that he left a part of himself behind in a drunken accident at an abandoned warehouse less than a year before. Whether that most important part of himself was his right hand or his mental health, however, is anyone’s guess.
Self-sabotaging behaviors—refusing to learn how to manipulate his prosthetic, finding oblivion at the bottom of a vodka bottle, ignoring every bit of correspondence (except his disability checks) from his ex-lover/social worker Jim—make life for Desmond a sludgy dung heap of an existence. One of the things the author does so brilliantly in her portrayal of Desmond, though, is that all the while I should’ve been thinking he was a pathetic loser, I wasn’t. I was busy wondering how much lower Des could sink and still resemble a functioning human being because it would be at that point that he’d either die or decide to try and crawl out of the shit pile in which he existed to give life a whirl. And, let’s face it, I loved him.
I loved Desmond Poole, plain and simple. He was a man with one foot in a destructive past, one in a disillusioned present, and was eyeballing a potentially early grave. He couldn’t see beyond the next minute to imagine heading toward any sort of future. Not when he was screwing up the best thing that’d ever happened to him, not when he was slowly killing himself in an alcoholic stupor, not when he was wallowing in resentment of his disfigurement, not when he was resisting the help he needed, not when he’d finally met fellow amputee Corey Steiner and proceeded to mess that up too. Desmond was a man who never once expected to be liked, let alone loved, and it was this fractured humanity that made him all the more likeable to me.
Let me be very clear: Meatworks is not a romance. In fact, to say the book has a happy ending would be stretching the definition of the word happy to mean something along the lines of I’ll try my best not to FUBAR on this one, baby. This is also not a plot heavy novel, Meatworks is one hundred percent character driven, and Desmond is the one giving directions. We don’t even get to know much about Corey beyond what Desmond wants us to see. Nor do we get to see Jim as anything other than an amazing man who’d pitied and enabled Des right out of his life, which gave a truly poignant edge to the story and in the end, made it so right when Des and Corey finally clicked. I’d even go so far as to say that each and every character introduced in this book exposes more of Desmond Poole than is revealed about the characters themselves. It’s not the way those characters act and react to Des as much as it is a revelation of Des in the way he acts and reacts to them, and it worked to excellent effect.
To say that Jordan Castillo Price keeps surprising me is an understatement, and she didn’t stop doing so with Meatworks. There’s never a point in the story that Des tries to be anything other than who he is—he knows he’s screwed up, and he knows he’s an asshole (and is probably a
little lot depressed), but rather than making excuses, he owns it and maybe he’ll just try not to be an asshole so often from now on.
This is another tick in the win column for JCP, and I can’t recommend Meatworks enough to anyone who loves a great antihero.