“I listen, patient as he talks and talks but out there on this frosty night the sordid race is still being run”
Tender is the third and final instalment in the author’s ‘involuntary trilogy’ which started with Die, My Love and Feebleminded. It is, once again, set in and around a remote home in rural France. The bucolic surrounds – cow pasture, woodland and vineyards – offer a stark contrast to the protagonist whose lusts and passions often veer into violence.
The story is narrated by a mother who is trying to raise her teenage son while barely controlling her desperate and carnal desires for her married lover – she grows frenzied when the man will not prioritise their affair as she demands. The boy regularly misses school – the pair have police records, coming under the radar of social services. The woman has vivid dreams that merge with her lived experiences. She struggles to contain her reactions when erotic appetites are not sated.
“this uncontainable fury across furrowed fields, groves of trees and every few miles a tantrum”
The mother’s behaviour is often reckless, sometimes cruel and regularly neglectful. She states a wish that she could keep her house in a better state, provide more regular food for her son and pay him more attention. Her days, though, pass at seemingly breakneck speed as she careers from one ill-thought action to another. There is a disturbing sexual tension at times in descriptions of filial interactions. It remained unclear to me what was being shared.
The son wishes to support his mother but struggles to keep up with her volatility. She tussles with the need to let go when he leaves her for time with his peers.
“They ride away, their exhaust pipes waking the families with him their new conscript. I stand up and walk through the house, still not dressed. I’m no more than the sound of an insect’s wing. Old age is a shipwreck.”
The woman tries to persuade her son to attend school then takes him off on a road trip that goes nowhere. The boy sides with his mother against her lover but is left on his own when it suits.
All of this is told in prose that sparks and burns with unsentimental candour. In many ways it is disjointed, yet this suits the recounted events unfolding through memory, action and regret. What comes across clearly is the fury and desperation of a beautiful woman who is libidinous yet inexorably aging. She may love her son but has needs of her own that she needs to assuage.
A short and powerful read that puts a labile woman front and centre – she is a mother but also herself. There may be discomfort in some of the attitudes expressed – towards immigrants, gypsies, illegals – but the raw honesty captures and pierces with its taut expression of emotions rarely confessed.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Charco Press.