Wow. What an incredibly powerful book. Margaux Fragoso’s memoir Tiger, Tiger is not an easy read. There were moments where I literally had to stop reading, because I was just either getting too uncomfortable or too angry. A co-worker admitted to me that she was hesitant about starting Tiger, Tiger; having young children herself, she was afraid that she would find the book too disturbing. This same co-worker found Emma Donoghue’s Room difficult for that same reason. I did sympathize with Jack and his mother in Room, but I was fine reading it. I found it difficult to read Tiger, Tiger, and I mean that in the best way possible.
When Margaux was seven, she met fifty-one year old Peter at a swimming pool. Peter invites her and her mother to visit his house, ostensibly to meet his wife and hang out with his two sons. Margaux’s father is very verbally and physically abusive, especially to Margaux’s mother, who is on psychiatric medication, so the mother jumps at the chance to form a friendship with a seemingly nice man. Turns out Peter is really interested in Margaux, and the way he seduces and manipulates her is just disgusting. Without any of Humbert Humbert’s eloquence or, let’s face it, Jeremy Irons’ seductive voice in the Lolita audiobook, Peter’s pedophilia is just there, horrific and disturbing and outright disgusting.
Part of what makes this such an emotional read is that Fragoso writes each chapter solely from the point of view of the age she was when the events occurred. So, when Peter attempts to use guilt to make eight-year-old Margaux perform oral sex on him, we as readers don’t have the filter of present-day Margaux Fragoso in her twenties to distance us from the eight-year-old girl’s emotions. Her disgust at the request, mixed in with guilt because he had given her a treat earlier, is all too real, and Margaux’s descriptions are bitter reminders of her eight-year-old mind.
The vividness of Fragoso’s writing reveals her relationship with Peter in stark, unforgiving detail. We see the young Margaux confused and angered that her father would make fun of Peter’s false teeth; later on, we see the teen Margaux realizing how wrinkled Peter’s skin is, and how emotionally dependent he is becoming on her. We see the turmoil of her discomfort, then possessiveness and even love for Peter. We see her grow up, and as she becomes more aware – of the way in which Peter manipulates her and of how she can use her sexuality to turn the tables and regain power – we root for her, not just to gain power over Peter, but to become free of him. In a way, the latter half of the book, where Margaux has become a teenager, is easier to read, because while Margaux is still definitely being victimized by Peter, she is no longer just a victim. She is, albeit slowly, beginning to take back her life.
I’m not even sure if I can describe how I felt reading this book, and I’m just amazed that Fragoso was able to write such a compelling, cohesive account of such experiences. I was furious at the way Margaux’s father kept belittling her and her mother. I was disgusted at Peter’s actions, at his insistence that society just doesn’t understand that he and Margaux are in love, and at his attempts at emotionally manipulating Margaux into staying with him rather than building her own life. Margaux is never overtly furious in her depiction of Peter, and, in a way, such a straightforward, matter-of-fact account just makes the horror of his actions so much starker.
Tiger, Tiger is not an easy read, but it’s definitely well worth the effort. Highly recommended.