Review: Love in the Time of Metal and Flesh

love in the time of metal and fleshlove in the time of metal and flesh by Jay Lake
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

WARNING: This novella is not for most people despite beautifully poetic descriptions and a sympathetic main character in Markus Selvage. Like his name–selvage, Markus is just trying to keep himself from unraveling. His answer lies in removing and replacing the vulnerable parts of his physical body with metal.

Metal does not weep. Iron does not know pain. Brass does not understand fear. Cold electrons carry no unpleasant memories. Hydraulic lines bring no traitor joy, to tempt a man into lying down on another bed of pain. . . twist muscle fibers like yesterday’s spaghetti and tomorrow’s surplus cabling mixed together, until all the flesh and pain is drawn forth from me and I have been distilled of purpose, distilled of feeling, distilled of the deep wells which make me human.
Distilled of love.

The scenes of the book are graphically described and disturbing, not unlike Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs. The debauchery here is less sex and drugs, though both are present, and more extreme body modification, body scarification, body dismemberment and torture. It is not for the squeamish. Unlike in Naked Lunch however, Markus remains the victim, innocent of the knowledge of his true horrible situation. Most of the story is deeply inside his head while a coma-like state deprives his awareness of the remnants of his body. In this state, he explores parts of his body looking for answers: liver, testes, colon, lungs, brain and heart. His body is his broken temple.
“[His colon]– a great hall, a sort of cloacal cathedral of the body.”
“[His lungs]– a dark cathedral, thousands of naves and narthexs branching outward and downward and wide and narrow.”
” . . . the complicate, tessellated, tesseracted hallways of the brain . . .”
“Clean atrial cathedral that lies at the center of the world of his being.”

Markus has an awareness of all that he isn’t sensing and doesn’t know as he describes being eye-blind, ear-blind and skin-blind. As memories and senses come back online, the story fills in. The rough, abusive growing up with his mother and sisters outside Austin, Texas. The descent into the dark extremes of the body-mod culture in San Francisco at the direction of his girlfriend Danni. It’s all too much. There can be no happy ending.

I am still heart-blind, though this slow seep of regret like tar in California sands would seem to be the same as dawn creeping through a drawn shade into the last day of a junkie’s life.

[Check out my other reviews here.]


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