13 August, 2009

Unhappy ever after?

This, by commenter catie james over at The Book Smugglers, seems to be quite a common reaction to Tender Morsels:
Ms. Lanagan had me right up until the final indignity she committed upon Liga. I didn’t need a complete 180 with some deus ex machina HEA; but subjecting her to all those previous brutalities, then leaving her with such a ridiculously bleak ending ruined the entire experience.
Thea (author of the original post) comments on the comment: 'the way things unfolded was unforgivable, in my mind'.

This surprises me, because I didn't see Liga's not-getting-the-man as either an indignity or the end of her story. Perhaps I saw it more as the peeling away of the last layer of illusion she had about the 'real' world; finally she sees things truly; the (fictional) world is not set up to accommodate a marriage between a 25-y-o man and a 40-plus-y-o woman, and she must accept that.

But she's not in a bad position at the end of the novel: she's an independent business woman; she has good friends and neighbours; her two daughters are each on their path to happiness, probably; she has social standing (which is a direct result of her own unwitting fiddling with time, so that the whole town is forced to 'forget' her earlier humiliation); the men who humiliated her in her youth are either dead or brought low themselves. She is not ugly, or a witch—two things that might hinder her marriage prospects. There's nothing in the way of her finding a nice man in St Olafred's (okay, so you don't see many nice men, but you do see some: Ramstrong and his family, Bullock and Noah—there must be enough of a culture of non-oafishness in the town to have produced those men?) at some point in the future. She's a fine match!

Then again, there's nothing wrong with her remaining single; she can still have a very nice life in the circumstances in which I've left her. Perhaps, um, she doesn't really need a man for her ultimate happiness? I know, weird thought.

I know we leave her at a point where neither of these possibilities has been explored, when she's still a bit in shock from having seen Ramstrong prefer Branza over herself, but 'ridiculously bleak'? 'Unforgivable'?


Blogger Thea said...

Hi Margo, thanks for the link to the discussion! It's definitely good food for thought.

"Then again, there's nothing wrong with her remaining single; she can still have a very nice life in the circumstances in which I've left her. Perhaps, um, she doesn't really need a man for her ultimate happiness? I know, weird thought."

For myself, and I believe Catie James too (though she'd have to speak for herself), the discontent arises not because Liga doesn't end up with a man of her own and lives happily ever after, but rather because it seemed that the sudden death of Ramstrong's wife and subsequent events seemed to imply that this was the direction the story was heading.

I actually was rather put out that Todda died, and I was worried that the opposite ending would occur (some contrived "Liga gets married and magically her life is all better" band aid). That would have been quaint and pretty, but would not have felt right with the rest of your beautifully gritty book. But to kill off Todda only to then show Liga's heart breaking when Ramstrong asks for her daughter's hand was completely, unnecessarily cruel to me. Of course, that's just my opinion, as a reader. I can't help but feel that Liga could have been spared yet another act of harshness, and that Branza and Urdda could still have had their own peaceful endings. Before Todda died, Liga was doing just fine on her own with Lady Annie and her two daughters. Instead, the out-of-left-field pairing of Branza and Ramstrong left me cold, and having to read Liga get crushed once more...this is what I thought was unbearable.

Again, this is just my own opinion as a reader. And clearly, there are many other opinions and interpretations! I just wanted to clarify because in no way do I think a woman needs to end up married to a man in a book for it to be palatable or happy. Quite the contrary.

Thanks again, I'm interested in reading your own thoughts and how you intended the book to be interpreted!

13 August, 2009 08:54  
Blogger Greg G said...

Margo, I thought it was a happy ending...

13 August, 2009 15:17  
Blogger Greg G said...

Thea, are you saying that Margo is being cruel to her readers or cruel to a fictional character?

13 August, 2009 15:19  
Blogger Kaia said...

Margo, when I read the book I also expected her to end up with Ramstrong, because I didn't realise how young he was. When the spin of the story went as it did I was first going "NO WAY", but I did like (a lot) that you didn't take the easy road here. I believe that TM gained a lot from this twist. Otherwise it would have been "oh and then she found a man and they lived happily ever after", which is nice for a fairytale, but not all that realistic.

And the important thing here (in my opinion) is that Liga has never seen a man that isn't mean, manipulative, abusive and awful. Naturally she will crush on the first man that is nice to her. He's safe. He's the exact opposite of what she knows about men. And really, I think that seeing her daughters happy and living with men that can be trusted... must do a lot to build up her own confidence in people. And maybe, down the line, she can find somebody. Time just didn't seem right at the end of the book, and in my head she certainly did meet someone, eventually. Once she'd built up her person and become confident in her abilities as a businesswoman and as a member of society.

I LOVED that you didn't fling a man at her towards the end of the book and called it a day. It makes for a much more interesting tale in my opinion.

13 August, 2009 22:27  
Blogger T said...

despite reading any number of negative or indifferent reviews (many of which you've posted on your blog), "tender morsels" remains not only the best book i've read in a long time, but one of the best books i've ever read in my entire life thus far. the ending made me weep, but i don't consider it a bad one at all.

14 August, 2009 00:02  
Blogger Among Amid While said...

Thea - Thanks for coming over and commenting - this is all really interesting. Funnily enough (well, perhaps it was to be expected) I did try to get Liga and Ramstrong together, but the age difference in their society just did not work, and I didn't think that Ramstrong, however nice he was, would have been a strong enough man to be free of social expectations with regard to the age of his wife. It's not as if he even considers Liga a match (you see it in the bedroom scene with Todda, where he talks about his feelings when Liga comes through from the heaven-world); he remains fairly blissfully ignorant of Liga's feelings for him.

I do think it's rather overstating things to call Liga 'crushed' and 'heartbroken' when he chooses Branza over her, though. Compare her reaction (covering her surprise, hurrying to get the drink to toast the betrothal, mature conversation about wedding arrangements) with the reaction after the rape (aimless wandering, attempted infanticide/suicide). I would say the earlier event marked her heart breaking. But now you can see how she is resourceful; she can still function as a social being, perfectly effectively, even in the face of her own strong emotions. She's horribly embarrassed, but I can't see her as 'crushed'.

Thea, I can only say that in this instance I don't think I laid down the cues for readers to take Liga's disappointment in love quite as hard as you and Catie (and many other readers) have taken it. I really think I left Liga in a pretty good place. And I'm much happier with the qualified contentment of her ending than with the she-has-her-man-so-everything-will-now-be-all-right-for-her ending I first attempted.

Thank you again for your very considered review and subsequent thoughts, though.

Greg G: I think Thea's saying I'm unnecessarily cruel to Liga (but in ways that also make the reader suffer!) - correct me if I'm wrong, Thea.

Kaia, one thing that worried me about the Liga-wins-Ramstrong ending was that it left Branza hanging. If B had ended up living with Ramstrong and Liga as the 'daughter' (of course, there were plenty of other options for her, but they would have required another several chapters), it would have been too much like the heaven-world, with her so sheltered. I felt in the end that her marriage to Ramstrong marked her reintegration into the real world, and we could set our minds at rest that after all her trials and confusions, she was now safe. (Whether that safety - and ignorance - is a good thing is a whole separate question.) And as you say, seeing Branza safe would have been a great relief to Liga, even if she was distressed for herself (temporarily, Thea, temporarily!) by the way that safety was achieved.

Tess: Thanks for coming by to tell me this. I'll go away and glow now. :)

14 August, 2009 07:58  
Blogger thedairycow said...

I finished tender morsels as a book club read a week or so ago, and am looking forward to sitting with my fellow readers and having a yarn about it.

I was thoroughly absorbed into the worlds you created, vivid and challenging, for that, thank you, Margo.

As for the burning issue of Liga's (un)happy ending, if it's to be seen as cruel, just as well, because the real world is cruel, and timing often does not match what we desire with what is, clearly proposed and carried through in the story by the disjunction of time that occurs between the worlds. But, as you've explained, it wasn't intended to be cruel, only a progression from one mind-state in Liga's life to another, where she is free on all counts. Much the way Branza was moved from one mind-state to another after speaking to the goodwitch. That passage moved me very much too, on a personal level.

I loved your ending, Margo. Loved that Branza got her chance at a gentle life in the real world (I worried that you might have tried to whisk her away to heaven-land), LOVED that Urdda became a witch, and was growing to be a powerful one, and I had no issues whatsoever that Liga was spurned.

I didn't realize the connection to the Brothers Grimm fairytale as I was reading the book, but if readers did, they would've seen the ending coming, because Snow White ends up with the bear.

It was a good attempt at a revisioning of a classic story, a fleshing out of the Grimms' one dimensional characters, where the good are good, and the bad are bad.

This said, I come to the portion of the book I took issue with - that of Urdda's unconscious witchcraft where her cutout men fleshed out to wreak vengeance on Liga's attackers. Whilst I can appreciate its cathartic intent, I did find it too pat, too childish. When reading the book, I didn't know its intended audience, and I was surprised at the name-the-game-but-don't timbre that scene took on. The hot poker pins and their convenient phonetic resemblance with what they represented distracted me for their obfuscated obviousness. In understanding that you were writing for a younger audience in mind, I'm accepting the necessity to describe the assaults in the grotesquely childish way you did, but it was confronting to read at the time. Your writing remained beautifully evocative, however, and I could see the little cutouts shimmering to life, and shimmering back to inertia.

You have a wonderful writing style, and thank you for a wonderful ride.


05 December, 2010 11:32  

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