Sunday, March 06, 2011

TIGER, TIGER by Margaux Fragoso (2011) Douglas & McIntyre, 320 pages

Picture this: you are an only child of a phlegmatic jeweler father and a mentally ill mother. You are used to tip-toeing around on figurative eggshells in your own home because tempers flare. Frequently. One day you're swimming at the local pool and introduce yourself to a father figure who seems so much more fun than your own and your mother agrees. Later, your mother will even suggest that maybe he was Jesus in a former life. You are seven when you begin to spend time with this charismatic and caring man who has a house filled with exotic pets he lets you tend and the most lovely and tender mutt named Paws who becomes your friend. His place is a paradise that encourages your imagination to run wild. And you do run wild. And so does he.

Like most pedophiles, 51-year-old Peter Curran preys on the most vulnerable children. Children like Margaux Fragoso who are willing to trust all too easily in a stranger who shows them that he loves them and does not threaten to beat them when they disagree or disobey.

I'm not sure that any book has made me feel so viscerally ill as I read it as TIGER,TIGER did. I kept thinking about my own fortunate childhood and how I didn't have to think about the choices Margaux makes to stay close to Peter until I was well into my twenties. I still can't quite grasp how she was able to write her story of horrific sexual abuse (that lasted 15 years and only ended with Peter's suicide--not a spoiler, by the way) without a whiff of self pity. Her prose is strong and vibrant and her approach unflinchingly honest. And, she is a compelling narrator.

By the end of this harrowing memoir, I felt emotionally gutted, just as I did after watching BLUE VALENTINE. Both have taken exquisite pain and given it full resonant voice in the telling.

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