Last night, I finished reading Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels for my book club. It took me a good deal longer to get through it than I anticipated, which I chalk up to struggles with its darkness (more on that in a minute) and to the fact that, as my wife pointed out to me this morning, I actually have friends with whom I go out and do friend things (whereas in Missoula, I had co-workers that were dear to me but with whom I never really socialized and classmates whom I admired, but with whom -- save one, who is still a good friend -- I never really socialized). So, yes, I've been reading, but also going to films with Dylan and having lunch with Tim and having beers with Gordon, etc. We make time for what is most important to us, and friends are important to me, now, to a degree that they really have never been in my adult life -- and I welcome and cherish that. Books, too, remain of paramount importance to me, which is why you'll never see me blogging about failing to read at all. I can count on one hand, I'm sure, the number of days this year that saw me reading not a single page in whatever book I happened to be reading at the time.
|Photo by Katerina Plotnikova|
Finishing a book always feels like an achievement to me, and Tender Morsels is no different. In some ways, getting through it feels even more significant or momentous because while I loved it, I was thrown by its brutality. And let me make clear at the outset: I'm the reader for whom darkness in novels is bread and butter. What is an exploration of a fictional life without trial and suffering? Life is, after all, earmarked with these -- so, too, should fiction be. But I hadn't expected such unthinkable abuses visited on an adolescent girl by a parent, by other adolescents; or the piercing melancholy of love that has nowhere to go, no one to whom it might given; or the surreal, nightmarish horror of a final act of vengeance. Be aware, parents: read Tender Morsels with your teen, by all means, but do not allow them to read it alone. The villainy of the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series has little on the villainy we see in Tender Morsels. But it all feels wholly germane to Lanagan's project: this is a fairy tale, after all, and fairy tales traffic in darkness as a means to unveiling truths to us -- about ourselves, about the social storms through which we veer, about the best and worst natures in all of us, and how those natures contend with one another. It feels like a fairy tale that the Grimms might have envied, and that is really saying something. It's an imperfect book, but a sublime one, too. And it made me want to re-read Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment -- and that's high praise, indeed.
Next on deck: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld, I think. Because it's a Good Reads giveaway win of mine, and as I haven't won a giveaway in a couple months now, I expect it's time to get to those wins I've been neglecting. Besides, I've been in contact with Wyld herself in recent months, and she's been extraordinarily kind and gracious (donating signed copies of her books to me to give to listeners of my radio show) -- there are few things finer than reading the work of a writer you've come to admire as a person.