Thursday, April 13, 2017

Throwback Titles (2): Tender Morsels, or, The One with All the Man-Bears and Squeamishness

Throwback titles are books that I've been meaning to read for a very, very long time, but have just now gotten around to it. In other words, it's that book you picked up in middle school that may have been a little bit above your reading level, and also happened to have 14 sequels. And what do you, a rational adult do now that you've realized that you stopped a mere five books from finishing the series? Continue, of course.

That's most of my stories, but I consider a throwback title to be any book 5 or more years old. Let's clear these babies out of to-be-reads and remind people of their favorite 2005 novel! I'll be posting a throwback title every Thursday (naturally). Please join in the fun by adding to the linky below and adding my graphic (or one of yours, as long as it links back here) above to your post!


Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Pages: 436
Publisher: Knopf Books
Publication Date: October 14th, 2008
Cover Comments: This is a beautiful cover, and one of the reasons I was attracted to this novel. It even gives subtle clues about what sadness lies within, in the expression on the girl's face, and the claws digging into her back.
First Lines: "There are plenty would call her a slut for it."

Tender Morsels is a dark and vivid story, set in two worlds and worrying at the border between them. Liga lives modestly in her own personal heaven, a world given to her in exchange for her earthly life. Her two daughters grow up in this soft place, protected from the violence that once harmed their mother. But the real world cannot be denied forever—magicked men and wild bears break down the borders of Liga’s refuge. Now, having known Heaven, how will these three women survive in a world where beauty and brutality lie side by side?

I read reviews on Tender Morsels before I started it, so I thought I was prepared for the nastier elements of this dark fairy tale: rape, bestiality, etc. Even so, I wasn't prepared for those first few chapters of hopeless cruelty. After I got through that part, I was so relieved for Liga and I was able to settle in and enjoy Margo Lanagan's writing. And y'all, it is gorgeous. So beautiful, in fact, that this book can almost get away with not really having much of a plot for 3/4 of the book. Almost.

Tender Morsels is very much a dark, Brothers-Grimm esque fairy tale, with unpleasant topics out the wazoo. That 3/4 part of the book that I mentioned where nothing much happens? Basically the only thing that happens in that section is the main characters of the book making friends and perhaps a little bit more than friends with bears. To be fair, these bears are men in the true world, but Liga and Branza have no way of knowing that. Not being in a society of any sort, Branza, I suppose, would have no idea of the wrongness of it either though. This whole section made me pretty squeamish, so obviously I tried to intellectualize myself out of the discomfort. Here's what I came up with: Liga would not allow a man with any sexual intentions of any sort into her dream world, especially since she created it after traumatic events involving men. But the growing Liga, who has come to feel safe in her world and perhaps wanting more to life now, is curious about the idea of romance - maybe not even consciously. So in come the bears who are men, but not really men. Her world is trying to find a way to grow with her without breaking the no-men rules of young Liga's world. I also think there must be something symbolic about how only men break into Liga's dream world, and only men of no real threat, either being a "littlee-man" or men in the skin of bears. Anyway, wanna-be English major rant over.

I really enjoyed the last part of the book, in which everyone makes their entry into the true world (I don't feel that that's a spoiler since it's in the synopsis). I love love love the character introduced around this time. As Urdda describes her:

"She had a different kind of boldness, a strength that did not defy that of men so much as ignore it, or take its place without question beside it - Urdda wanted some of that boldness."

Lanagan's writing really shines through this character. Liga and her daughters adjusting to the true world after their dream world reminded me of Room, in which the young boy has to adjust after being trapped in a small, never-changing room. Branza especially can't fathom the cruelty that exists in this true world, although she does have a bit of a bite to her, as we find out. I love this gem of a paragraph below about adjusting to the world:

"Now you are in the true world, and a great deal more is required of you. Here you must befriend real wolves, and lure real birds down from the sky. Here you must endure real people around you, and we are not uniformly kind; we are damaged and impulsive, each in our own way. It is harder. It is not safe. But it is what you were born to."

Verdict: First off, I certainly would not recommend Tender Morsels to anyone under the age of 17, possibly 18, or with anyone who might be triggered by rape scenes. Those scenes are not all that graphic, but they do paint a very clear picture emotionally, which is even harder sometimes. If you are one who devours pretty prose and doesn't mind a meandering plot or themes of bestiality, I'd give this a shot. I give it 3 stars for the writing and the achingly lovely ending.



  1. Wow this sounds really different, and to be honest just seeing the cover and not looking too close I would think this a middle grade. Obviously given the content it's not! But an interesting premise if you can get past the horrible things that happen I guess. And that paragraph you shared does give a feel for what the writing must be like.

    The meandering plot and the men-as-bears thing does sound problematic- I might have trouble with that but it certainly sounds interesting! Nice review.

    1. I know, the cover is really misleading!

      I really wanted to like it, but yeah, the plot and bears drove me away. I'll have to try some of her other work though. Thanks for the comment :)