Rebecca Foster's Reviews > Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir

Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
5875398
's review
Nov 20, 13

bookshelves: memoirs, cathartic, best-of-2011
Read in August, 2011

To call this book a memoir of childhood sexual abuse is to reduce it to something far too simplistic. Fragoso’s fifteen-year relationship with Peter Curran, who was 44 years her senior, was full of whirling instability, ranging from violence to tenderness and from innocence to perversion. Fragoso could have used this book as a final act of revenge on her abuser, but instead has created an unbiased and sympathetic picture of a man who was both victim and victimizer. Curran suffered childhood sexual abuse himself, at the hands of both men and women. Although this doesn’t excuse his action as an adult, it does help to explain it: he came to think of adults and children interacting sexually as normal, everyday occurrences.

Curran is presented as a gentle man, unconcerned with normal adult goals like a high-flying career, flashy car, fashionable clothing, and expendable income to spend on restaurant meals and jewelry. He loved being around children and animals. His meek persona was such that it could easily neutralize any suspicions people might have had about the amount of time he spent alone with Margaux. After Curran’s suicide Margaux’s parents gave very different accounts of who they thought he’d been. Her mother imagined him:

“In heaven. Looking down on you, your very own guardian angel. Sometimes, you know, I still think it’s possible he could have been the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. He was so wise and pure of heart. I just wish he could have gotten good psychiatric help. Maybe if he had just been on the right drugs, none of this would have happened.”

Her father, on the other hand, claimed to have always been wary of Peter: “You know, I always felt that there was something not right about him, something not normal. I couldn’t place my finger on it.” However, this was more likely to be on account of Peter’s lack of interest in the things that were important to him: personal appearance, clothing, money.

Neither of Margaux’s parents could have had any clue that in their time alone Peter was showing Margaux porn films and wheedling her into giving him blow jobs. Margaux’s father was too distant and self-centred, and her mother too affected by mental illness, to ever realize what was going on. Others had their doubts about the nature of Peter’s affection for Margaux; someone even called a social worker to come and investigate, but despite the pictures of little girls all over his bedroom walls, she couldn’t find enough evidence to convict him, especially with Margaux refusing to give any damning testimony. They lived in their own Lolita bubble for 15 years until Peter’s suicide.

What is most remarkable about Fragoso’s memoir is how convincingly she has recreated her childhood. It’s impossible that Fragoso could have remembered all these details of place, event, and particularly conversation; most of the scenes, and much of the dialogue, must surely be reconstructed. And yet, although I was aware all along that so much was built around small kernels of memory, I believed every word. The book is alternately novelistic and journalistic in its loving attention to detail, and Fragoso has done a triumphant job of capturing a child’s voice and perspective. As the character grows up, so does the vocabulary and the quality of introspection. Thus, for example, at age seven we get this child’s-eye view of a man’s genitals seen for the first time: “The whole contraption looked like a bunless hot dog with two partly deflated balloons attached.” Gross as it might be, it’s a brilliant imagining of what a child would have seen.

This is so much more than a victim’s memoir of abuse. It’s an evocation of childhood, a reflection on innocence and experience (with that title echoing William Blake), and a meditation on the goodness or sadness that one person can bring into the world. Fragoso has not settled for easy answers or clichéd sentiments. She neither glamorizes her situation nor demonizes her abuser. Despite all that he led her into, she loved Peter Curran, and for much of their relationship she was old enough to know what was right and wrong. If not for herself, she could have exposed Peter to stop him abusing his own daughters, his foster daughters, and (though he always denied it) his girlfriend’s son. Fragoso knows what her tacit consent caused, not just for herself but for others. This book should be, for her, an exorcism of old ghosts as well as a warning for others. It’s a powerful and beautifully written story.
5 likes · Likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Tiger, Tiger.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Caroline (new)

Caroline Glad to hear this is good; it's been on my TBR for a while!


message 2: by Cheryl (new)

Cheryl This is what I really like about good memoirs=> "It’s impossible that Fragoso could have remembered all these details of place, event, and particularly conversation; most of the scenes, and much of the dialogue, must surely be reconstructed. And yet, although I was aware all along that so much was built around small kernels of memory, I believed every word."

Great review, Rebecca. Memoirs are based on memory and a good writers seem to construct conversations around memory and have you right there in the moment with them because of the emotional truth of it all.


message 3: by Lilo (last edited Nov 20, 2013 06:45PM) (new)

Lilo It is possible to remember lots of small details from childhood. (I do.) But I am a bit skeptic about lots of dialogue. Yet if the author managed to reconstruct the dialogue so that it fits into the picture, it is fine. However, I think it is quite risky for any memoir author to include more than a minimum of dialogue.


Rebecca Foster Lilo wrote: "However, I think it is quite risky for any memoir author to include more than a minimum of dialogue."

I agree that dialogue is a difficult thing to recreate convincingly in a memoir. I suppose what you have to do is be true to the spirit of what happened and what was said; the words might not be authentic, but if they capture the emotions behind the events, they are accurate? What was your approach to including dialogue in your memoir, Lilo?


message 5: by Lilo (last edited Nov 21, 2013 02:00AM) (new)

Lilo @ Rebecca:

I included only what I actually remembered, and not a word more. There is one direct speech in my memoir (where my grandmother loud-whispered remarks in church), which I did not verbally remember. There I wrote that she whispered "something like" and then I followed with some examples which were the true spirit but not her actual words.


back to top