Tender Morsels came to my attention a while back after I read some ruckus about nutbags trying to get it banned (or something) because it depicts bears having sex with girls. And who doesn’t want to read about bears having sex with girls? I immediately bought a copy.
But anyone reading this book for the bear sex is a) an idiot, and b) going to be disappointed. Tender Morsels is like picking up a strange rock and marvelling at its different colours as you turn it over in your hand. The dark-fairy-tale plot is spectacularly unexpected: A young woman called Liga is subjected to horrifying abuse at the hands of men, so when mysterious magical forces give her the opportunity to retreat into a custom-made fantasy world, she takes it. It’s here, in her own personal heaven, that she raises her two daughters: gentle Branza and feisty Urdda.
The women are not entirely cut off from the real world. Several men are able to worm their way into Liga’s heaven – some of them strangely transforming into bears on the way in. Eventually, as the girls mature, it becomes clear they can’t all stay in this little snow globe forever. The story is rich with subtext about how women and those around them cope with and recover from terrible crimes committed against them, and wrapped up in Lanagan’s ethereal and blossoming prose.
This is one of those books that you read and wonder how anyone could find controversial. (But then, I doubt the kind of people who clamour about “controversial” books ever bother reading them.) Tender Morsels is a story about strong, fully-realised women learning to face the world. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any young women I know. Or young men. Or anyone.