Tender Morsels

(Quality Time returns from a brief hiatus during which I bought a house (!!!) and moved.)

I finally got around to reading Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan this past week, sneaking it in between unpacking boxes. I'd been hearing mixed reviews for some time; comments from people who loved it and from those who were freaked out and or wanted to ban it, thinking it was inappropriate for its intended Young Adult audience. So I was prepared for something controversial but somehow wasn't at all prepared for the actual story, which is both brutal and sweet, by turns. It is a retelling of Snow White and Rose Red that turns the original fairy-tale into a new, dark, beautiful, heartbreaking story.

The story begins with Liga - a teen girl who lives in a hovel with her horrible father, isolated from the people of a nearby town - taking ill and going through a process she doesn't understand. After going through the same kind of sickness more than once, she eventually figures out that her father has made her pregnant and is buying remedies and forcing them on her, causing her to lose the babies. Once she understands what is happening she tricks her father and manages to hide her next pregnancy from him until she is quite far along. He blows his top when he discovers what she's hiding and goes to the local enchantress for more help.

Liga is left home in a state of terror and panic, which stretches out over days when her father doesn't return home. When she finally goes in search of him she finds him dead in a ditch and is so traumatized by his abuse of her she barely knows how to go on without him screaming at her and controlling her. She goes about her daily tasks, avoiding the town and gives birth to a daughter all by herself. She cares for her baby as best she can until she is horribly assaulted by a group of boys from the village, who leave her badly injured and pregnant yet again.

Despairing, Liga cannot bear to continue in such a cruel world and goes to the edge of a cliff to end it all. But her concern for her baby makes her decision even more complicated and as she tries to come up with a solution another baby appears; a magical baby that soothes Liga and gives her a gift that propels her into a new, beautiful, safe world where she can rear her two lovely girls in safety.

But even the most amazing world isn’t completely safe and Liga's world is threatened when a cranky, greedy little man forces his way in, spewing profanities and looking for his own heaven. I was impressed with the breadth and depth of his insults. He's quite creative, but unfortunately an awful, awful person. Liga's two little girls, Branza and Urdda, are too young to recognize the threat he represents and try and help him every time he appears, despite his verbal abuse of them. They're so innocent they have no idea what his words mean, which is nice because his attempts to hurt their feelings fail miserably.

But his entrance to their world, a kind of rape of the earth, warps the fabric between the two worlds and he's not the only one who can pass from one to the other. Dangerous creatures can enter and eventually Urdda, the younger daughter, figures out a way to get out, landing in the real world, a place she is ill equipped to handle. Urdda is used to being able to go where she wants, when she wants and she finds the mores of the real town difficult to deal with. Girls are not supposed to go out by themselves and if they do and something bad happens to them, it's their fault. They asked for abuse by going out alone, a concept that Urdda quite rightly finds repulsive.

Ms. Lanagan explores many serious issues but her main focus is on vulnerability and the exploitation of the innocent. Whether it's a donkey that's abused by a cruel master, a loving husband who loses a beloved wife or a young girl savaged by her father – a person who should be protecting her – tender morsels abound and are damaged or destroyed by those in power. Ms. Lanagan returns to the roots of fairy tales, writing a dark, story that warns against perils that face all of us, but especially girls. While the story is very dark, Ms. Lanagan avoids graphic language and the degradation that Liga endures is not explicitly described.

The writing is gorgeous; lyrical and evocative and a joy to read. You can read an excerpt here: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780375891496&view...

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from my electrician, who actually had quite a bit to say about several television shows, but was most excited about Greatest American Hero, which just ran in a marathon on SyFy, saying, "I used to watch it as a kid. I loved it. Watching Ralph fight spies and crash in his suit was the greatest. I didn't understand why they cancelled it." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.