When Margaux Fragoso's memoir came to my attention, my first impulse was to avoid it. In these times of awful news and crass motives, I was not inclined to give further attention to the subject--pedophilia--or the possibly exploitive author and her publisher. Then I read the first dozen pages and realized Fragoso could write. I noted that her publisher was the fine Farrar, Straus and Giroux. I wondered if my reluctance was narrow, or even fearful. Eventually I knew I would disappoint myself, and possibly miss an opportunity to read a good book, if I didn't give Tiger, Tiger a try. Soon, despite some negative reviews, I was deep in the story.
With a mentally ill mother and a mean-spirited, alcoholic father, lonely seven-year-old Margaux meets fifty-one-year-old Peter at a local swimming pool. He is playing with the sons of his roommate, and they give the appearance of a happy family. Impulsively, she asks to play with them and is immediately welcomed. Soon, Peter invites Margaux and her mother over to his house, where they meet the extraordinary menagerie that he tends, including a small caiman crocodile who falls asleep as Peter rubs its belly. This animal whisperer soon has both mother and daughter charmed as well. Before long they are visiting Peter twice a week. He offers Margaux tremendous freedom at his home, and though she doesn't like what feels like pushiness in him, she revels in the liberty. When her mother complains about and makes fun of her father, Margaux joins in, Peter sympathizes, and the father is set as the outsider, excluded from their fun.
Fragoso gives us a detailed description of Curran's seductive manipulation of the entire family, as he gradually inserts himself into their lives and convinces them of his good intentions, and as they close their eyes to the result. Using guilt and bribery, elaborate fantasy play, and a child's longing for love, he makes Margaux his co-conspirator and persuades her that society's rules don't apply to them.
The strength of this book is Fragoso's ability to make that child's perspective vivid and believable. As Curran takes each uncomfortably intimate step, he finds ways to calm and entice her. Within a year he manages to make the relationship sexual, and Fragoso has begun to experience real dissociation from her own senses and emotions.
For fourteen more years, she is bound to him with complex feelings of her own power, vulnerability, distorted affection, and desire. Though some reviewers have been critical because Fragoso seems too loyal and understanding of her victimizer's troubles, it is those very feelings that are important here. The dialogue and details are doubtless more recreation than fact, yet she works through her own healing in the process of writing, and she could do no less than acknowledge the attractions that brought her to care for this broken and dangerous man.
For some victims of childhood sexual trauma, this book may be more troubling than helpful. But for those who want to understand how, if not why, such damage can be done to a child, it offers a cautionary tale worth reading. Certainly Margaux Fragoso has shown us that telling our stories can help us comprehend our own behaviors and encourage recovery. As she contemplates the Tiger in Curran, in herself, and potentially in us all, she asks with Blake: "Did he who made the Lamb make thee?"
And of course, beyond comprehension, he did. Though we may flinch, we cannot stop the Tigers or save their targets until we see them as they are. This book illuminates that forest of the night where they abide.
by Susan Schoch
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women