“Special meat”, aka human flesh, is on the menu after the Transition, and Marcos struggles with his daily life of slaughtering people that have no identities. When his work gifts him a specimen of the finest quality, he doesn’t know what to do with her. The law classifies her as nothing but a food source, but he takes note of her gentle behaviour, and he doubts he has what it takes to do what’s expected of him.
(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)
Depicting a dystopian world where humans are harvested for their meat, Tender is the Flesh didn’t hold back in its deadpan execution – there’s no warm, fuzzy feelings when it came to this book, it was just grim-grim-grim. The main character, Marcos, works at a processing plant, and throughout his daily life the reader gets a detailed picture of the business, everything from selling, breeding, slaughtering, hunting, even experimenting on humans that are treated as nothing but livestock. Despite the far-fetched concept of the population accepting and embracing cannibalism as the norm, Bazterrica was ruthless in her approach, so much so I didn’t have issue in suspending my disbelief. That’s the thing that struck me as so powerful, it was the cold and matter-of-fact manner that lacked even a shred of hope; my optimism for anything remotely positive was quashed early on. It goes without saying that Bazterrica injects harsh criticism of the meat industry, among other practices, with a parallel between food and consumer – a lot of people are removed about how their food ends up on their plate, and as a meat-eater myself, I admit I felt some discomfort at the stark truths that were presented as fiction.
It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but then again, cannibalism usually never is. Apply the polemical overtones and it’s either going to work or miss the mark entirely. For me, I enjoyed it overall because I like bleak subjects, but that’s not to say every single element catered to my tastes, with an example being the animal cruelty scene. Humanity was painted with a very broad brush as a whole, so I didn’t exactly warm to any of the characters either, it just wasn’t that type of book. Marcos, even taking into account his disapproval and sympathetic circumstance when it came to his personal life, was probably one of the worst. Again, he could be compared to the reality of individuals opposing the poor treatment of animals while at the same time being enmeshed in it.
One thing I need to mention is how speech was incorporated, that being not much at all. For the majority of the time, the reader is told of what is said rather than traditional dialogue. It took some getting used to, but I found it gelled with its impersonal nature.
In conclusion: Tender is the Flesh doesn’t care about your feelings, not one bit. With provocative and cutting writing, it tells of a society taking desperate measures by farming people for protein when a mysterious virus renders animals inedible. Through graphic imagery of all manner of abuse, it makes an ambitious attempt at evaluating many systems we don’t bat an eyelid to. It definitely swept me up with its unique approach – I wouldn’t describe it as character driven, rather it relied almost solely on its world-building, certainly different than what I’m used to. I think I’ll remember this one for a long time to come due to how much it stood out.
Because hatred gives one strength to go on; it maintains the fragile structure, it weaves the threads together so that emptiness doesn’t take over everything.
© Red Lace 2021