Monday, July 7, 2014

Review by Jodi: Meatworks by Jordan Castillo Price

Title: Meatworks
Author: Jordan Castillo Price
Rating: 5/5 Smooches


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?


There is something about Jordan Castillo Price’s writing that is so intriguing and addictive. Price is one of those authors whose plots and characters stick with a reader long after the book has been closed. It is hard to pin down her writing style: science fiction, fantasy, romance. Her eloquent writing contains a bit of grit, realism, satire and even humor thrown in. Each book Price pens teems with edginess.  Meatworks is edgy, gritty and, at times, a bit bizarre. This is not a typical romance.

It is no secret that our lives depend a lot on technology: cell phones, computers, video cameras, GPS tracking. In Desmond Poole’s world, robots have taken the place of all of these contraptions. Price has tweaked history a bit and created an alternate universe where there is no escaping robots, their help and their intrusiveness.  The problem is that Desmond does not like robots. His dislike seems to go back to before his accident.

If I didn’t “shake” with the housebot, how would it be able to add my temperature preferences to those of the group and adjust the HVAC system accordingly? And the lighting system? And the music mix? While my own preference for old school punk usually resulted in some bizarre selections when I mingled with a group of more conservative folk, and the housebot averaged our musical taste into something that all of us could snigger at…I’d been less than enthused lately about baring my soul to just any old piece of machinery.

It wasn’t that I was afraid of the dumb thing—I’d repaired enough of them to know there were no moving parts—it was the principle. Can’t a guy go somewhere without being read? What if I want to sweat for a change—or shiver? What if I’m in the mood for some country and western? What if I want to tell my social worker where I’ve been and have him take my word for it?

Desmond doesn’t have a housebot. He does have pet Sea-Monkeys, a 30-year-old television set, a couch older than the television, a 1978 Gremlin and plenty of vodka. The last time he got laid was seven months ago, right before his accident, and since that time, he has been trying to heal, cashing his government checks and drinking … lots and lots of drinking.

When readers meet Desmond, he is scared, scarred and self-destructive. Seven months ago, Desmond lost his hand in an accident at a warehouse involving a robot. At the beginning of the book, he does not remember the details, much to his new therapy group leader’s chagrin.

Desmond is being forced to attend therapy in order to continue receiving his government-based disability benefits. Although Desmond doesn’t recognize it, Desmond’s social worker and ex-boyfriend, James Murphy, has been coddling and protecting him a bit over the past few months. When the ex-boyfriend and current social worker realized Desmond has found a new man, he is angry, disappointed and starts to remove himself from Desmond’s life. Separating himself from Desmond is not an easy task though for Jim.

Since I had no good answer, I resorted to saying, “Fuck off.” That was my pattern. Nastiness.

He turned and walked out while I scooped coffee into the filter. That was his pattern—leaving in disgust. All these months and there they were, just waiting for us to fit ourselves into them as if we’d never managed to break free.

I tried to tell myself he was just doing his job, but that seemed to piss me off even more. How had he ended up with my case? Yeah, they were overworked at his office—but shouldn’t that mean that one more gimp-file could be slipped into anybody’s teetering in-basket? It couldn’t have been coincidence that my file ended up on his desk.

Then I thought about the way he looked when he asked me if I was okay, and that knocked the anger down a few notches to a stinging kind of sadness. And it made me feel like an ass for yelling at him. Any other social worker would have recommended to have my benefits yanked by now and let me slip off the system’s radar since I was so shitty about following their protocol. Not Jim. He was
worried for me—genuinely worried. I could see that the minute I looked into his eyes. “You’re right,” I called out to the entryway. That was as close as I ever came to I’m sorry. “When the arm shifts and the prosthetic sleeve starts fitting wrong, it’s a bitch.”

I turned on the coffee pot and went to join him—because while Jim might start yelling just as quick as I do, he’s also just as quick to calm down, and he never was much for holding a grudge.

Well, until our last official night as a couple, when I’d ditched him at a party because I ran into my old gang and somehow ended up leaving with them. And yet, weeks later when I woke up in the hospital, even that well-justified grudge had been forgotten. Or at least set aside.

The therapy group is conducted by Pam, Corey Steiner’s sister-in-law. Corey, who also is missing a hand, is instantly attracted to Desmond.

I glanced at Corey—who’d been watching me. He raised his eyebrows playfully. I hadn’t know what, exactly, to expect at my social-services-mandated support group. Talking. Exercises. Some psychobabble attempt to screw my head on straight again. Never in a million years would I have thought I’d be cruised by one of the other gimps.

But never, ever, ever would I have expected to be turned on by it.

Corey had the dark-haired, dark-eyed look of a guy who’d had some racial mingling in his family tree, far enough back that the only ones who knew about it for sure were the genealogy buffs. His brother was handsome, in a typical and middle-class kind of way. Corey, though, was devastating.

He didn’t have bigger eyes or better bones or any of those things that might make one guy register as an 8 and another one a damn near 10. If anything, he should have been a notch more homely. He had a crooked eyetooth, just one, on the right side, that he bared whenever he smirked—which evidently was a lot. His eyebrows weren’t quite the same, and his nose was too big. It didn’t matter. He looked at me, smiled that naughty-boy smile, and I was putty in his hands.

I think he knew it, too.

In typical Price style, this book has multiple layers, and as the reader peels off each layer, he or she becomes more invested in the characters and more conflicted about them. And there certainly is a lot to be conflicted about.

Desmond, Corey and James are not heroic characters. They are flawed, damaged and, at some points, very unlikeable. And, yet Price forces readers to care about these men and their futures. It is difficult not to feel compassion for Desmond, even though, he is not a very sympathetic character. He needs redemption though. Desmond and Jim both need redemption and closure. Jim cares about Desmond, but he cannot handle Desmond’s self- destructiveness. Their relationship creates conflicted feelings within the reader.

I peeled the key off the letter, held it up in front of my nose, and let my eyes cross a little. Jim had never owned a key to my apartment—never wanted one—but this was too small for a door key, anyway. As soon as I saw that bit about the old chain, I realized I was looking at a padlock key.

The padlock key.

No wonder Jim was being all sappy about the fact that I still had the chain on. He’d mailed this out a few days before he stopped by. Fuck. Everything I did hurt him—and everything I neglected to do hurt him just as bad.

I covered the padlock at my throat with my left hand, still holding that key pinched between thumb and forefinger. All those tiny motions—the forefinger-thumb pinch, the spread of the other three fingers to cup the warm metal, the rotation, the velocity, the aim. Unlike my robotic arm, which was a struggle to even move, every nuance of the meatworks gesture happened without a conscious thought.

As I cradled the padlock in my left palm, the room swayed around me, and the TV pitch lady explained how the diet scale came with five different personalities pre-installed to best help me achieve my health and weight-loss goals. And I remembered how Jim had looked, standing there in my doorway, the last time I’d seen him. Crushed. Defeated.

Corey is an enigma. On the one hand, he is tough, seductive and very self-sufficient. Yet there is a softer and more compassionate side to the young man. He cares about Desmond, but he also is wary of being hurt. His feelings are apparent to the reader, but Desmond is clueless.

Despite the harshness and bareness of this world, Price’s descriptive prose are beautifully written. Price presents the alternate reality as technological advanced, yet still stark and barren.  The dialogue is wonderfully written, and helps the reader understand the characters on a deeper level. Price has written an impressive story that leaves the reader a bit emotionally drained and still wanting more when the words stop.

Thank you to Jordan Castillo Price for providing a review copy of this title in exchange for my honest opinion.

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