Book review: Easy Meat by Rachel Trezise
Easy Meat - Rachel Trezise
With the notable exception of Jon McGregor (whose latest book Lean Fall Stand was recently reviewed here), books dealing with the here and now, that see the potential in the everyday experiences of ordinary people and the daily challenges they face, are relatively uncommon. Most people want a bit of drama and escapism in their books, a good plot and a thrilling narrative. Rachel Trezise's Easy Meat turns that all around, looking at the people who need that sense of escapism just to get through this point in their lives. With a setting in north Wales on the day of the Brexit referendum, it considers what happens when that need for escapism runs up against a political agenda that has little genuine care or consideration for people's lives and livelihoods.
Caleb works in an abattoir, partly through necessity and partly through choice, as his previous experience on a reality TV show has left him seeking anonymity and in some way perhaps, a hands-on dealing with a truer sense of reality. You could see some kind of metaphor in the descriptive passages of butchery, an unpleasant necessity that few wish to think about as they set food out on their tables, but Caleb's job also indicates the kind of work that has been done in this part of the world by many European migrant workers under poor working conditions. Another inconvenient reality that people are willing to put aside as the polling stations open on the voting day on referendum for remaining or leaving the EU.
Caleb has no strong feelings either way and doesn't even intend to vote. He has other everyday concerns with his father's carpet business having gone under, with sorting out the mess that has been left with his marriage breakup, with an employer on his back looking for any opportunity to belittle and sack him, and with just basic everyday concerns about having enough cash to buy lunch. Caleb however is determined to pull himself back up to the kind of peak fitness that saw him as a minor local celebrity as an athlete. He's going to get back to training and turn things around for the better. When he finds the right time.
"If he could just catch a break he knew he'd hit the ground running, an accumulator on the Euro semi-finals or a bank error in his favour. Even Monopoly had a community chest". This is the desperation of many people, and it's beautifully expressed in the writing, in such little relatable turns of phrase. There's a deeper side to Caleb's longing however and another side to the expression of his predicament, the universal predicament of everyone who longs to escape the harsh reality of today. That comes through most starkly in the description of Caleb's work, in the situation of his mostly European co-workers and in the attitudes that he sees hardening in the members of his own family.
It's also notable that song lyrics feature heavily, Caleb finding words that hold meaning for him in the songs he listens to that give him a sense of strength or solidarity with other people's experience. That of course is another means of escapism, getting lost in the music and the sentiments. There is nothing in Trezise's writing however that lets such romanticising take over, there's nothing that sounds preachy or condescending, no diatribes or political agenda being pushed through Caleb and his situation. Rather the little details of people's everyday worries, hopes and way of relating to the world all point to a sense of alienation and disillusionment - for each one of them - that could lead each of them either to give up or look desperately for a way out.
Although it is set in 2016, seldom have I seen a book that deals in such a way with the realities of people's lives in the here and now. Easy Meat takes in what music means to people, what family and work mean to ordinary people, how they rely on social media and how it can be an unhealthy problem and how (little) most feel about political agendas being pushed in Westminster. Trezise weaves these simple relatable parts of life beautifully into something that feels real and vital, that strives to get to grips with how people deal with the reality around them, and how they can be - and have been - seen as easy meat to be exploited by others.