[REVIEW] Tender Is The Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica, translated by Susan Moses

Mel's hand holds a Kindle up in front of a blank rose quartz headstone on a bright and sunny day. The Kindle shows the cover of Tender Is The Flesh, which depicts a young woman in profile, the top half of her head blocked out by the dark silhouette of a beef steer.

(Buy this book here.)

(This book is one long content warning. If you’re sensitive to violence or gore, don’t read it or this review.)

This book is disgusting. Let’s just start there.

No, really. This Argentinian dystopian horror takes place in a very near future where it’s become impossible to eat animal meat due to a mysterious virus. Instead of turning to veggies and seitan, humanity instead creates systems in which some people are bred and consumed for their meat, with all of the attendant inhumanity that factory farming entails.

That’s the book. That’s the whole grim, eye-stretching, horribly gory, and disgusting book. There is a protagonist in the form of morally conflicted processing plant boss Marcos, but really he’s just a vehicle to ride around this vile world in. Even when he’s gifted a young woman, prized for her expensive, delicate meat(yuck) there’s not much but constant exposition here. The ending is clearly meant to shock (and it does), but in the current climate, social cynicism keeps it from being big, if not from being nasty.

So, what’s the point? And why am I, your resident lily-livered joy-reader reviewing this awful, awful book?

I’ve seen complaints about how the meat system in the book doesn’t interrogate real-life inequity enough. However, the writer is Argentinian, not from the US. I think she drops plenty of South American inequity bread crumbs. Also, making the simple observation that it is startlingly easy for people to commodify each other when we adopt mindsets that only acknowledge individual needs is much more effective when the details are in the continual horror of the premise rather than in hamhanded attempts to shoehorn present real-life politics into a cheap shock device.

What shook me most about this book wasn’t that it’s about legal consumer cannibalism. It was that the author immerses you so deeply in the horror that eventually, the reader is desensitized to it. It made me wonder–what are we actually becoming numb to in the real world?

Or the whole thing could just be very dramatic vegan propaganda 🤷🏿‍♀️ Hell if I know.

4 stars and Soylent Green sprinkles to Tender Is The Flesh.

(This is a gross one, fellow readers, right up there with Tampa. I can’t say I’d recommend buying it in all good conscious, but it is available, along with many other diverse titles, in the Equal Opportunity Bookshop. Quick reminder; if you click through and purchase anything on Bookshop from a link you find here, we will earn a commission, which is usually used to buy more books and write more reviews. Tidy little cycle, that. Peace!)

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