Now for the most confronting book I’ve ever read.
I don’t restrict my reading to ‘warm and fuzzy’ books. Whilst I don’t seek out horror, true crime or books from similar genres I am prepared to read the less palatable, provided it’s in context (although, that said, there was a scene in Brett Easton Ellis’s Imperial Bedrooms that may have scarred me for life). Reading should be enjoyable but it should also be sometimes challenging – unfortunately those things aren’t always synonymous. I finished Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso two weeks ago and I am still trying to order my feelings about the book.
Tiger, Tiger is a memoir. The jacket blurb reads –
“I still think about Peter, the man I loved most in the world, all the time.
At two in the afternoon, when he would come and pick me up and take me for rides; at five, when I would read to him, head on his chest; in the despair at seven p.m., when he would hold me and rub my belly for an hour; in the despair again at nine p.m. when we would go for a night ride, down to the Royal Cliffs Diner in Englewood Cliffs where I would buy a cup of coffee with precisely seven sugars and a lot of cream. We were friends, soul mates and lovers.
I was seven. He was fifty-one. They were the happiest days of my life.”
Tiger, Tiger is harrowing and deeply disturbing from page one. I had to keep reminding myself that it is a memoir and this horrifying situation was real life for an innocent little girl. The obvious question when you read the blurb for Tiger, Tiger is “Where the hell are the girl’s parents?! How could this happen?!” Fragoso’s mother was deeply depressed, had a number of mental health issues, was being physically abused by her husband, Fragoso’s father, and had also been abused as a child.
Fragoso’s father, whilst suspicious of Peter and on occasion intervening in Peter’s relationship with his wife and daughter, is ultimately a vain, angry, selfish and misogynistic man. Early in the book, Fragoso recounts a conversation with her ‘Poppa’ when he was talking to her about self-respect –
“Your instincts – remember they are almost always wrong. What’s right is what your friends and family tell you to do, they always know better; even a stranger on the street who doesn’t know the first thing about you: tell that person your situation and you’ll get better advice than if you sit down and think about it yourself.”
Wow. If this is the message you are giving kids, no wonder they are vulnerable.
I read this book over the Easter break and the friend I was holidaying with asked me why I was reading it, after watching me put the book down in revulsion a number of times. Ultimately I felt that if Fragoso was brave enough to write it, she deserves an audience. That said, I felt it bordered on voyeuristic at times.
Fragoso includes an ‘Afterword’ in Tiger, Tiger which provides context for her story.
“By setting down my memories in this book, I’ve worked to break the old, deeply rooted patterns of suffering and abuse that have dogged my family through the generations…. My mother had no idea how to recognize trouble, or to shield me from it…. Secrets are what allowed Peter’s world to flourish. Silence and denial are exactly the forces that all pedophiles rely on so their true motives can remain hidden…. Pedophiles are masters at deception because they also excel at self-deception; they fool themselves into believing what they do isn’t harmful.”
It was tough to pair Tiger, Tiger with a culinary treat simply because I felt sick to my stomach the whole time I was reading. However, you could try a vanilla milkshake – eight-year-old Margaux’s favourite.
3/5 Some would say that if you’re a parent, read this book and treat it as a warning. As a parent, I say give it a wide berth – ultimately it’s just too hard, too upsetting. In summary, I found Tiger, Tiger heartbreaking.