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Posted January 23, 2014
love in the time of metal and flesh is not an easy book to read. That doesn't make it a bad book. The subject matter, for me at least, was uncomfortable; I don't tend to be squeamish when it comes to horror fiction, but my big weak spot is extreme (and sometimes not-so-extreme) body modification. For instance, as much as I think tattoos can be amazing works of art ... something about a full sleeve, no matter how beautifully rendered, makes me a little, well, nauseous, to be honest. Still, that's my problem, and I would never say that full sleeve tattoos should be hidden from public view. For the same reason, I have to give this book a positive review: the subject may make me uncomfortable, but there's no denying the skill with which Lake tells the story.
The narrative is extremely fluid, moving from Selvage's present, tied into hospital machinery intended to keep him in some state of 'alive,' and multiple points in his past: his childhood/teen years, his relationship with Danni, his first encounter with Daddy Nekko. At first there seems to be a sequence to the time-and-space jumps, but that sequence becomes less restricting as the story progresses. Although it's not all told in first person, it is almost all tied to Markus' POV. Lake brings us deeply into a mind that was damaged in adolescence and never quite recovered. I think this is what is so disturbed me about the book: not only the scenes of extreme body-modification (most of which is done "off-screen") but those scenes combined with such a deep understanding of what Markus is feeling, physically and emotionally, both before and after each cut. I will not, in this short review, spoil for the possible reader what damaged Selvage's sense of self and socialization ability as a child, nor will I talk about exactly how the Markus-Danni-Nekko relationship plays out. I will say that a lot of it is quite brutal in a way that only limited POV can provide. I was, especially in the slaughterhouse scene, constantly in mind of another book that made me extremely uncomfortable: Matthew Stokoe's "Cows." The limited POV is interrupted, occasionally, by police and news reports of events related to the main narrative; these short breaks give the reader a chance to catch a breath and clear the mind before plunging back into Selvage's mind. The breaks are needed.
I didn't actually like any of the characters (except perhaps for the younger sisters Markus leaves behind, but even they came across as selfish risk-takers) but I can say that I felt for the main character, both in his childhood and at the end (before and after the body-mods, the mutilations, that are an outward sign of the turn his broken inner self has taken). And this is where Lake is just so, so good. He take take a subject that makes me uncomfortable, write scene after scene that makes me sick to my stomach, and yet get me to feel something for the character at the center of it all (something Stokoe's book didn't manage in the least).