Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels was recommended to me during a recent writing workshop. Using the Grimm’s framework of “Snow White and Rose Red” (not that Snow White), Ms. Lanagan studies the aftermath of the anguish and terror of the life of a young girl, her escape to a safe heaven, and the repercussions of that escape
The book had been highly recommended but I wasn’t quite expecting the depth that the book actually held. The dialect and subject matter is arresting from the first page. I continue to be confused by the classification of this and many other Young Adult books — as it seems the age of the protagonist is really the only rule. The subject matter in this particular tome (and the author has addressed this) is very mature and in some cases fairly graphic.
Initially we learn a lot about the role of sex in the lives of supporting characters. For Collaby, who is deflowered in the first couple pages, it is part mystery solved and ultimate happiness. For his partner Annie, it is a way to combat boredom while being useful. Sex is on her terms. However, when we meet Liga, the main protagonist, sex is most definitely not on her terms. Abused and raped, first by her father then a group of town boys, Liga is left on her own with a baby and another on the way.
She’s about to end it all when she’s intercepted by an amorphous magical being which grants her two jewels to create her own heaven. She does so and is surrounded by a peaceful, pain free life. The despised people in the town disappear. Her house is shored up and straight. Her daughters grow up peacefully and safely.
But Annie and Collaby are up to unwitting mischief back in the real world. In order to find Collaby an escape from his mis-dealings, Annie pokes a hole between the real world and Liga’s heaven. And things start to go to hell. Eventually, the tear between the worlds must be repaired and Liga and her daughters begin to try to live in the real world again.
This summary has left a lot out. The book is incredibly dense in theme and plot. And though there were a few times when the story was more slowly paced than I would have preferred, Lanagan’s prose was far too beautiful to stop reading.
One of the takeaways from the book seemed to be that no matter what horrifying circumstances produce a daughter, a daughter is always a blessing. I’d like to believe that., though, I of course have nor want one of my own. The decisions that Liga makes to ensure her daughters are protected are both wonderful and terrible and she is praised and condemned for them. In the end, she ends up sacrificing what might have been true love. I’ll be thinking about this story for a very long time to come.