What It’s About:
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.Goodreads
Tender is the Flesh is a book unlike any other book I’ve read. It is categorized as horror and it was indeed horrifying to read in a few different ways. First, the fact that humans in this book are bred and slaughtered for food was abhorrent. The descriptions and explanations of how they were treated and processed mirrors our own meat industry. The cold and matter of fact way that the author wrote about “special meat” was frightening because I often had to remind myself that these were humans and not animals that were being described. And each time I remembered, I would feel the shock all over again.
There were also incredibly grisly scenes that made my stomach turn. Tender is the Flesh is only 200 pages, but it took me longer to read because I couldn’t read it while I was eating (a lot my by reading time is during my meals). There were also times that I wanted to read the book, but I had a hard time mentally preparing myself for the content. I’m also glad that it was such a short book because I’m not sure I could handle anything longer!
I enjoyed Marcos’s character because he brought elements of humanity to the story. The juxtaposition of the almost mindless humans that were processed for meat against Marcos’s personal relationships with others was enthralling. My favorite elements of book had to do with his relationships with his father, sister, and wife.
First, I loved reading a story that talked about caring for an elderly parent with mental illness. It was interesting to see how Marcos handled the responsibility and weight that it added to his stress. Marco’s relationship with his sister and the unbalanced division of effort in caring for their father was another thing that stood out to me because I’m sure it’s something many people have seen in their own families. I know I’ve seen it happen in mine.
The other element that I was intrigued by was the story arc of Marcos and his wife. Their struggle with infertility and the effect it had on their relationship was heart-rending. *small spoiler* Then the loss of their child, dealing with grief and the strain on their marriage added another layer of sorrow. Seeing these elements from a male character’s point of view captivated me. Society now days does talk more about infertility and losing a baby, but usually focuses on the mother’s experience. I loved that I got to explore this from a father’s point of view.
While the horror elements of Tender is the Flesh helped make this book stand out, the inclusion of Marco’s experiences and relationships was what kept me hooked throughout the story. I will say that the ending really surprised me and I had to re-read it a few times to wrap my heard around what happened. It was totally unexpected. Those kinds of endings are so much fun because they keep you thinking about it for awhile after you finish the book!