Okay, so I’m reading this book, Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan, and while the writing is beautiful and the story is great, I have one pretty big problem with it (and this post will contain spoilers!).
Basically, it’s the weird pseudo-bestiality that’s occurring between the girls and the enchanted bears.
The story goes like this: Liga is sexually abused by her father (the passages that describe this are absolutely stunning, and Liga’s voice in particular is well-crafted and verisimilitudinous), so “natural magic” (this is on the back cover copy, I haven’t gotten around to seeing what this magic actually is, if it’s explained at all) gives her a ticket to a dreamlike world where people will stop being such fucking jerkwads about the fact that she was abused and let her have some peace.
Later on, guys wearing bear suits as part of a spring solstice type festival are transported to this dreamworld as well, except they’re actually in the form of bears. Rawr, grizzly, and the like.
These bear-men, upon seeing Liga, and, later on, her smexy grown-up daughter Branza, start to fantasize of certain goings-on that I’m sure I don’t have to spell out for you.
Now, I know that Lanagan has the ability to write about squick-out topics with grace and beauty – it’s right there when she’s writing about Liga being raped. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have been bothered if it were the bear-men alone exhibiting desire for the women… but in both cases, there’s more than a little hint that the women feel some kind of attraction toward the bear-men.
Well, what’s the problem with that? After all, they’re really men in disguise, right?
Yeah, this is true. Except, and here’s the big except: the women don’t know that they’re men. They have feelings for creatures that, to the best of their knowledge, are just plain ol’ bears.
This is pretty high up on my squick-o-meter, but I can’t help feeling that after reading about Liga’s experiences with her father (on more than one occasion he tricks her into taking medicines that cause miscarriages), that there is some sort of problem with the way Lanagan wrote the bear scenes. I have a pretty strong stomach. A couple of hints at bestiality shouldn’t have me putting the book down.
First, I think there’s a significant distance between Liga and the narrative in the first couple of chapters, when her father is raping her. She’s definitely not aware of what’s going on, at least not in the same lucid way that she is aware during the chapters with the bear, or the way that Branza is aware during her encounters with the bear. That Liga and Branza realize that something is wrong with the bear situation but still keep in contact with the bears was disturbing to me.
Second, there’s a big difference between the levels of explicitness between the two. The rapes are handled much more subtly than the hints of bestiality, and the gentle hinting of what was going on between Liga and her father made those passages even more heart-wrenching and beautiful. There was a quality lost in the scenes with the bears that rendered them less than powerful.
I still have high hopes for this book, as I’m only halfway in, and I’m hoping that the writing continues to be lovely. There have been quite a few more breathtaking passages, so I think things are likely going to end up in the “yay this book was awesome I must read it again immediately” field rather than the “help me I can’t stand this book anymore” field.