Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In which I attempt a semi-critical review of a book by an author I admire

Oh, those first 50 pages! Spectacular. Not just because of the crazy-beautiful writing, and the dare-you-to-stay-with-me portrayal of a raw, ugly situation, but because I was really and truly convinced that I was inside Liga's head.

As the novel expanded to encompass more lives, I found myself less entranced. It wasn't the difficult but brilliant language choices; it wasn't the raunchy but highly original portrayal of bears; it wasn't the shifting multiple viewpoints. All of that, I admired and appreciated as gutsy literary choices. It was simply that the human heart of it got lost for me after we left Liga, and I never found it again. Really, I would've gone anywhere with that girl and wanted to.

More than that, I wonder about the novel's intended effect on me. Living with the truth is a classic theme in YA, and a good one. It's touted on the back cover as being this book's theme. But to me, Tender Morsels seems to be about brutality---literally, the brutes inside us. I didn't realize that until the "revenge" scene, which was so beastly that I wondered if the point of it was to show us what our ugliest inner thoughts look like when turned into reality. If so, Lanagan succeeds, and I felt like crap afterwards. But maybe, as I should. We are all brutal, even the best of us, as Branza, the "golden daughter," shows when she savagely bites someone. I don't know.

All I know is that I feel like a "tender morsel" who was just eaten by this book. Lanagan is wickedly talented, and seems to be fearless. I will read what she writes. But I'm going to reserve the right not to like it. 

Absolutely guaranteed to make for a passionate book club discussion.


  1. I just finished her collection of short stories, Black Juice, and I agree that Lanagan is a brilliant writer. But the stories were so dense, and dark, that I felt like more than one a month was too hard to take. Like eating a rich, chocolate cake, and nothing else, for a solid week. Good, but too heavy.

    It's made me worry about picking up Tender Morsels because I feel like I'm not going to enjoy it unless I'm in the absolutely perfect mood.

  2. David, I still have chills when I think of the clown story in Black Juice. I really loved that collection, and I think the fact that I could read it in short bits helped me process the darkness and density. White Time was a bit less effective for me, and I haven't dared Red Spikes yet. But I will.

    As for Tender Morsels, I'm not sure anyone should enjoy it. What's brilliant is brilliant, and again, I think she means to and does disturb the universe in all the dangerous ways a writer can. (Yes, I'm responding to your post about "where are the dangerous writers?" a bit late.) I can't stop thinking about certain scenes, which is the hallmark of a great book. But I can't say I "liked" it or that I thought her transition from short stories to novels was completely effective.

    Her work demands I respond honestly to it, so I've tried. But I can't encapsulate the whole of my thoughts. I'll be interested to hear yours once you find the right time to approach this.

  3. Oh, someone reminded me that this is NOT her first novel. So that should be MY transition from her short stories to her novels...

  4. I've only read RED SPIKES and this. I think she can turn a phrase beautifully, and overall I liked this, but I get what you're saying. I guess I shouldn't say more, because Eisha and I are planning to co-review it. If that co-review never gels (which might happen, since I tagged her way back and I absolutely HAD to turn the book in the other day and am starting to forget things), I'll come back and comment.

    I do think it was like reading two or three different books, disguised as one.


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