We're going to be discussing Margo Lanagan's fascinating novel, Tender Morsels (a Printz Honor book) at the VCFA residency. Margo (who talks about the book on her blog) will be visiting as well--I can't wait to meet her.
Tender Morsels wasn't easy reading at first, not because of the dark subject matter but because the novel demanded a great deal of trust from me as a reader. To be honest, much more trust than I am accustomed to give to YA novels as a rule. I had to quit trying to create my own logic out of the unfolding story, and instead let the text carry me along, like the "smoke...cauliflowering out of the fireplace." I had to hold the easy judgments ("I like this" or "I don't") for later. Once I'd let go my need to make meaning immediately, something very interesting began to happen. The story started settling into place, and it was startling, disturbing, and very, very beautiful.
It left me with so many questions. Do we ask too little of readers when we try to place too much on the page? Isn't it necessary sometimes to leave dots unconnected, to define less, to leave more room for the emotional self to create meaning rather than the logical mind? Isn't that the only way that young people can really grow as readers, constructing the story for themselves in deep and meaningful ways that go beyond the plot steps of one event following from another ? Something that has to do with the very mind of the story, the deepest truths it can tell, the ones that drove the writer to craft it in the first place.
Writing is all about trust. Trusting the story enough to get myself out of its way. Trusting it enough to see when a rejection is simply a matter of taste, not a reason to put the work away and deem it worthless. Trusting my vision of it enough to know that when a reader says, "I don't understand this" the solution is not always to change the confusing parts, but to aim for a larger plausibility. Lanagan's book suggests all this and more.
Tender Morsels has apparently awakened controversy in the UK about its "appropriateness" for the young--note that it's not a "children's book" but one for "young adults" and older. When I grew up in the India of the 60's, my parents who were quite strict in lots of ways, nevertheless practiced a kind of benign negligence in the matter of my reading. That meant I scoured the shelves for everything there was, and read it, usually more than once. From that I learned one thing--the content I was unready for just wafted right over my busy head. Years later, I'd think, Oh, that's what that meant. When some things scared me, I just closed the book. When you trust the young, they learn to trust themselves.