By Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Sarah Moses (2020)
This little number has been on my TBR for a good while, and I finally got the excuse to read it when my friends and I decided to book club it. I am enraptured by this, it’s utterly amazing. This tells the story of a world where cannibalism has not only been legalized, but industrialized as a strange epidemic meant that every animal possible had to be killed to prolong human survival.
Main character Marcos is a restrained, detached, and sad man. Grieving after the sudden death of his infant son and trying to deal with the ensuing fallout between him and his now estranged wife, we see him go through the motions. He goes to work, and he comes home. He hears the silence around him as the space used to be filled with dogs, a wife, and a baby. His life changes dangerously when he is gifted with a woman who was bred for slaughter.
The horror in this story creeps through revelation. Bazterrica doesn’t slap you across the face with atrocity, but simply tells it how it is. Her world is one that has adjusted to this new way of life despite how grim and ugly it is. Bazterrica will simply lay down a fact, something vaguely unpleasant, and then leave it to you, the reader, to ruminate on it and discover for yourself how and why it is so horrible. Bazterrica doesn’t spoon feed her reader; she just releases tidbits of information and as you alone consider it, you start to recognise how truly horrible the world she had designed is.
This is not an overly gory story – it’s respectful. Tender doesn’t revel or fetishise it’s own horror as Marcos is disgusted with his surroundings and everyone around him. He goes through it all as he sees no other option. This ends up being really compelling, gives the story more room to tug at the ole’ heartstrings.
Tender is told in two parts, but part one is without a doubt the stronger part. Part one sets up this really immersive world – yes, it is immersive despite how little you’d like to be immersed in it. The world is ultimately the strongest aspect of the book as it is so well developed and thought of. Part two, however, is weak in its journey towards resolution. There is some tension introduced far too late in the game, and it is then resolved far too quickly; ultimately, it feels rather meaningless. The ending itself packs a punch but, when you consider the character of Marcos you have been tied so tightly to, it feels like it comes a bit out of nowhere. There’s some random, clunky, expositional dialogue in the final chapters that felt very out of place and strange. All the set up was given to the books’ beginnings – a little more set up would have really benefited the closing chapters, too.
Little issues aside, I really, seriously enjoyed this book. Bazterrica shows a powerful amount of control over the story she is telling, and every reveal is so diabolically calculated. I so enjoyed this, and as we approach Spooky Season, I recommend this completely to any horror fan looking to feel unsettled.
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