After a virus kills off livestock, humans of the future make the decision to switch over to “special meat”. This is the basis of the cannibalistic novel, “Tender is the Flesh.”
This novel is Agustina Bazterrica’s second. Like the Halloween hit, “Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the twist is humans are what’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The chilliness of the text comes from the violent setting with unaffected characters.
At first glance, this is a novel that intends to condemn factory farming. Just below the slaughterhouse, though, there is an implicit exploration of morality and the modern world.
While the anti-meat message is a key element of the novel, the novel also dissects the complacency of the everyday person. Due to his need to provide for his children, the protagonist, Marcos, puts up with his brutal workload.
It isn’t hard to draw parallels between the world of Tender is the Flesh and class divides in labor. How different are we from these “special meat” eaters when we pick up sweatshop-made clothes or food harvested by underpaid farm workers?
Marcos and all of his coworkers swallow the hard pill of wholesale murder with the careful and systemic dehumanization of their “special meat”. Turning the domesticated humans into unrecognizable heaps of flesh.
Poignantly post-Roe v. Wade, the “female head’s” vocal cords are removed to make them more submissive, and the pregnant ones, after artificial insemination, are relieved of their arms and legs.
Midway through the novel, Jasmine, a ‘female head’, appears before Marcos as his silverlining. The escape he craves. Escape from his broken marriage, from his superiors that disgust him. Escape from the empty relationships around him.
Marcos constructs his domesticated bliss with the ideal woman; silent, dependent, and submissive, by his side.
By part two, the prose became a bit tiresome, but the novel is thankfully brief. While the style is by no means knocking Proust down a peg, it isn’t necessary to be ornamented with rich and poetic text.
It has the suitable, cutting rhythm found in journalistic pieces by the likes of Hunter S. Thompson.
The ending is classically dystopian with birth coinciding with death. Instead of an escape in the wild unknown, birth pessimistically condemns the characters to remain within the confines of their immoral world.
Despite any weaknesses of the text, “Tender is the Flesh”, without a doubt, is required reading for any self-respecting reader. And considering the meager 209 pages and simple style, any self-respecting non-reader should at least give it a go.