Tiger, Tiger

Tiger, Tiger
by Margaux Fragoso
Published 2011 by Farrar, Srous, and Giroux
336 pages. Hardcover.
Rating: 4/5

One summer day, Margaux Fragoso swam up to Peter Curran at a public swimming pool and asked him to play. She was seven; he was fifty-one. When Curran invited her and her mom to see his house, the little girl found a child’s dream world, full of odd pets and books and music and magical toys. Margaux’s mother was devoted, but beset by mental illness and frightened of her abusive husband; she was only too ready to take advantage of an escape for the daughter she felt incapable of taking care of on her own. Soon Margaux was spending all her time with Peter.

In time, he insidiously took on the role of Margaux’s playmate, father, lover, and captor. Charming and repulsive, warm and violent, loving and manipulative, Peter burrowed into every aspect of Margaux’s life and transformed her from a girl fizzing with imagination and affection into a deadened, young-old woman on the brink of suicide. But when she was twenty-two, it was Peter—ill, and terrified at the thought of losing her—who killed himself, at the age of sixty-six.

With lyricism and mesmerizing clarity, Margaux Fragoso has unflinchingly explored the darkest episodes of her life, helping us see how pedophiles work hidden away in the open to steal childhood. In writing Tiger, Tiger, she has healed herself of a wound that was fourteen years in the making. This extraordinary memoir is an unprecedented glimpse into the heart and mind of a monster; but more than this, it illustrates the power of memory and truth-telling to mend.

I first heard about this book through NPR. Someone had written a review, I believe. It was incredibly intriguing. There were a couple of quotes (not the ones I’ve used) that made me want to go pick it up. I put it on my TBR and forgot about it for a little while. When I was in the airport Monday, waiting for my delayed flight, I was browsing the shops and saw this book. I decided I’d pick it up. I read quite a few chapters while I was waiting, and devoured the rest of the book when I got home.

You might be thinking, “why would I want to read a book about pedophilia?” I’ll tell you why: because it’s a brilliant book. It’s so well written. I love when I read a book and I can tell that the author has put their soul into it. And could she not put her soul into the story of her turbulent childhood? It’s obvious that she worked hard on this book.

The most interesting thing that I want to point out is how Peter is portrayed. There’s this quote on the back of the book saying something about how she humanizes a pedophile. It’s such a great quote because it’s so true. Don’t hate me for saying this, but it’s really hard to hate Peter. Yes, he did some awful things to Margaux, but I can’t just categorize people into good vs. evil. It’s just not how the world works. Peter had a difficult childhood himself, and it probably had some bearing on who he turned out to be. He also had some mental unbalance, like depression and mood swings. This book forces the reader to look at pedophilia in a why they may not have imagined: as a problem that can be treated when it’s recognized. Peter even says it himself.

     “I don’t understand,” I said, “You used to say it was just me but now you’re saying you did it with other girls before me. I thought I was special. You said you fell in love with me.” Thinking about this, I felt like a power source with too many of its outlets in use, like whole brain was having a blackout.
     “I love you,” Peter said, his voice carrying. “And you are special. I loved my daughters, too, and I only wanted to show them how much. But now I realize that I was as sick as any alcoholic, gampler, or drug user. There’s no rehab for people like me and I feel so isolated from the rest of the world. I feel like I’m an outcast who can never fit in no matter what I do.”
     Peter gripped my hand. “I have to get better somehow. Even if it’s on my own.” He paused and then said, “Will you help me?”,
     “Yes,” I said weakly, though I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do.

pg. 238-239

Peter was never really a bad person, exactly. He made some really horrible choices, and those choices hurt Margaux, her family, and himself in the end. He wasn’t lacking in guilt, however. There was a particular quote I found interesting when Peter decided that he was responsible for Margaux missing out on a lot of her childhood.

     “I have to tell you about this ladder. It had a bunch of missing rungs. She stood there in her blue glow and looked at me with perfect calm. After a while, I was filled with horror. You see, I’ve been reading these books while you’re at school, about how children interperet sexuality…”
     “What about the ladder?”
     …”It was your life, sweetheart. And the rungs were the years you’d lost because of me.”
     “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” I felt like my circuits were overload again.
     “Let me explain. Life occurs in stages, like rungs. First, you’re a child playing with dolls. Then you’re a preteen, getting into boys. Then you’re a teenager, dating and such. But for you these stages were skipped. What we have to do is go back and repair the ladder. To do that we have to stop all the sex. Just quit cold turkey. Our love has to be wholly pure and spiritual. I’ll be your father.”

pg. 240

I’m not trying to defend Peter. He was clearly emotionally unbalanced. What he did to Margaux was awful, and it caused some of the same emotional problems in her own life. But Margaux herself points out many factors that might have been part of what happened. Because of the way her mother’s molestation was handled, her mother failed to see the warning signs that were flashing like bright, red lights in front of her. Margaux’s home life was next to terrible, and Peter seemed to be the only person who was ever nice to her. He earned her trust when she was young and naive. He manipulated her, her family, and himself into believing that there was nothing wrong with their relationship. But it all started somewhere. Peter’s own personal problems and experiences were a large part of the person he became and the choices he made. If someone had known, had seen the signs early enough, he might have been able to get help. And I think that’s part of the point Margaux is trying to make. She, a mother now herself, wants children to be safe and brought up in healthy environments.

I was captivated by her story and amazed at her courage in telling it. The writing is exquisite. I recommend this book.

Prude Filter: This book contains pedophilia, profanity, detailed sexual content, violence, and references to drugs, rape, and alcoholism.

Source: Hudson Group
Purchase this book: FSG/Macmillan | Book Depository | IndieBound

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