Hello everyone and welcome to our monthly AAR blog column. The basic idea is we choose a book every month and have a discussion about it. We being Elisabeth Lane (of Cooking Up Romance), a long-time romance reader who now creates recipes inspired by books and then blogs about it, and Alexis Hall, author of, most recently, For Real.
This month we read Meatworks by Jordan Castillo Price, an m/m romance set in a dystopian near-future where robotics technology reigns. Desmond Poole has recently lost a hand in a robotics accident and he is… failing to cope. He gets sent to group therapy where he meets Corey Steiner, a hip, young thing who has much better control of his robotic limb than Desmond. They have instant chemistry, but it takes them awhile to navigate the treacherous waters of their new relationship.
AJH: This your first JCP isn’t it? How did you find it?
Elisabeth: Loved it. Loved the characters, loved the world-building, loved the dark humor. Loved it.
AJH: Oooh gosh. Yes. I find her a really … I don’t quite know the word is. Uncompromising writer? She’s never hesitates to take an idea and run with it. Or allow her characters to be deeply, deeply unsympathetic in often quite unglamorous ways (Desmond is definitely an example of this!). So her books always leave me sort of moved and thoughtful and impressed, all at the same time.
Elisabeth: Yes, Desmond is definitely not your typical romance hero. He’s an alcoholic. He’s depressed. He’s had this accident where he ended up losing his hand, but even that, well, it was sort of his fault? He was involved with not-great people and he wasn’t that ambitious or well-wrapped even before he got hurt. Personally, I couldn’t have anything but sympathy for the guy, but I understand why other readers might not particularly like him. He’s made some pretty epic mistakes.
AJH: He’s a difficult narrator to spend time with, that’s for sure. But I really like that he’s vulnerable and stupid and self-destructive in ways that romance heroes often just aren’t allowed tobe. And also I like that he’s allowed to get himself into a better place by the end of the book, just in this very low key way of coming to terms with who he is and the decisions he’s made, and making some new choices for his life. I mean, since we’re essentially dealing with a disabled hero here, it’s quite significant that he is not amazingly brave or saintly, but nor is he completely helpless and ruined. For me, he’s just very human. Robot hand included.
Elisabeth: Yes, and the whole plot is basically about his learning to manage his disability, both physically and mentally. It’s interesting to see the evolution he goes through between his ex-boyfriend/social worker, his new love interest Corey and the couple of counsellors he has to see in order to continue getting benefits. It’s this whole exploration of Desmond handling things his own way, even when that’s not necessarily what society’s script would have him do. Like, the therapy helps him, but not in any kind of direct way. It’s more like learning to cope with the mess the system makes that gets him back on track.
AJH: This is all really complex stuff and I really liked the way the book engaged with it. But I think what I struggled with occasionally was the way his disability was sometimes treated as, well, disability. And sometimes almost as metaphor for the various things that Desmond hasn’t quite come to terms with: the actual circumstances of the accident, his relationship with his ex, broader issues about himself and his place in society. Which sort of brings us back to the thing you mentioned earlier about the whole lost-arm thing being his (and to a lesser extent Corey’s) own responsibility almost. Lemme find a quote:
In some sense, hadn’t we all?