Taking “Tiger, Tiger” by the Tail

This is a difficult review to write, because “Tiger, Tiger” by Margaux Fragoso was difficult to read.

This is a book about Fragoso’s 14-year relationship with a pedophile named Peter, beginning at age 7 (he’s 51) until his suicide when she’s 22 – so the majority of her childhood and adolescence. The subject matter alone makes this book difficult to read.

It doesn’t help that Fragoso’s writing style is an overdone, purple prose that’s textbook bad writing. She doesn’t use dialog so much as chew-the-scenery monologues, especially from her parents. Here’s just one example:

“As he pulled into traffic, Poppa looked around. ‘This is a bad section of town, Keesy. Look at that man spitting in the street. I would not spit in the street even if I were choking to death! This is why I carry a handkerchief at all times; I never spit, and I never curse on the street like a lowlife savage, and I do not throw trash on the ground. Look over there, Keesy, at those two pigeons pecking at cigarette butts; they think it is food! It is a depressing sight. This whole place is depressing to me. ..'”

And it goes on and on, one long, flourid paragraph after another.

But I stuck with it, hacking my way through the forest of verbiage, because I just couldn’t put it down. It is morbidly fascinating, this “Lolita”-as-told-from-her-POV. It starts innocently enough, for Fragoso, meeting a charming man at a pool, being invited to his crazy petting-zoo house for dinner. He charms her. As adults, we can see how he’s manipulating her from the beginning, winning her trust, convincing her how much he “loves” her. Of course, the 7-year-old Fragoso can’t see this. She just feels the way Peter wants her to: as though she is his whole world.

Fragoso pulls no punches – she graphically describes exactly what he does to her. This is definitely R, or even X, rated content.

Yet even as I was reading, there were several unanswered questions. First, how could all the other people living in Peter’s house not know, or even suspect, what was going on? He lives with a wife (who later divorces him because he won’t or can’t have sex with her), two step-sons, and later, his ex-wife’s boyfriend, one of his step-son’s girlfriends, and a family living in the downstairs apartment. Did no-one think a forty-to-fifty-year-old man and a young girl spending so much time in the basement and his bedroom – with the door locked – was a little suspicious? When Fragoso is a teenager, someone does call DHS, but by then, she’s so brainwashed by him she actively covers for him, lying about their relationship.

I’m sure after reading this, many would condemn the mother for not seeing what was going on – after all, she was in Peter’s house most of the time. But she was mentally ill, and probably desperately lonely as well. Her husband (Margaux’s father) insults and infantilizes her at every turn, and even admits to having mistresses. The mother is doped up on prescription meds all the time, oblivious to the world around her. Later, we learn she and her sister were violently raped when they were girls. Their parents swept it under the rug, insisting they just keep it quiet and forget about it. I strongly suspect her “mental illness” is probably the result of improper psychiatric care and side-effects from the meds she’s on. And naturally, because of that, she simply doesn’t have the tools to protect her daughter.

But perhaps the biggest unanswered question, to me, was “why did she stay so long?” Even after she gets “too old” for him (around age 14), and he gets steadily more controlling and violent with her, she never realizes what he really is. Once in college, she does try dating and making friends her own age, but she keeps going back to Peter every week. He continues controlling her with guilt, causing her to ruin other, more healthy, relationships. As she puts it, “I couldn’t imagine starting a new life with him always in the background, getting older, even more dependent and desperate…”

So why does she stay entangled with him? Why not just go live her life? The only possible answer I can fathom is that her upbringing made her feel she had to stay with him. For one, her father repeatedly states his belief that if a woman has pre-marital sex, even if she’s raped, then she’s “ruined.” Plus, being raised Catholic, she probably believed that marriage means forever – and when she was in the eighth grade, Peter “married” her in a church.

Maybe. Or maybe not. She never tells us.

The end is also anti-climactic. At age 66, when Fragoso is in college, Peter kills himself, leaving her a car that she actually paid for with her savings. There is a little bit of a “waking up” feeling from Fragoso after he dies, but still no real awakening as to what he was, what he did to her. Then we jump ahead to Fragoso enjoying a seemingly happy relationship with her daughter. Huh??? So now he’s dead, and it’s all magically better? I needed a little more closure than that. I needed to see her heal, or at least open her eyes and realize what really happened.

I am still not sure if I like this book. As you can see, it has a host of problems, but I couldn’t put it down, and I still can’t stop thinking about it. And maybe that’s all that really matters anyway.

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