Saturday, December 12, 2020

Tender is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica

Marcos' life is in shambles. His wife left him and he works on a farm that processes human meat, now legal because of a disease affecting all animals and rendering them inedible. He sees the most horrific things every day and has to do business with the worst sort who want to buy the head (as in head of cattle) for hunting, experimentation, or consumption. Then he receives a female head as an unwanted but valuable gift and has to decide what to do with it.

Tender is the Flesh is an absolutely chilling dystopia. Due to an incurable virus, animals can no longer be consumed or be around humans at all. There also no pets allowed, leading to a mass slaughter of them for human safety. The government has decided to allow the raising and killing of humans for food, opening up a huge market of other things previously illegal: medical experimentation (even the most inhumane procedures), hunting people, organ harvesting, and an expansion of illegal human trafficking. Bodies can't be buried for fear of being dug up and eaten. The less fortunate or less protected could be kidnapped and murdered for meat. Scavengers roam the countryside, violent and wild, looking for flesh.

Marcos's job is stomach churning but highly paid. The head can't speak due to their vocal chords being removed and lack of any sort of education. They are never acknowledged or referred to as human, always kept naked, and treated exactly as cattle.  Marcos carefully chooses who works there because the job attracts some unsavory characters. The goal is to find someone who needs the money and can desensitize themselves (as he has) to the violence. The general public calls it "special" meat and carries on as usually, blissfully ignorant of the realities of how they get their food. There is some outrage, but it seems more are willing to sacrifice others to go one with business as usual.

Tender is the Flesh kept surprising me with how depraved things could get. When I thought it couldn't be any worse, it went further. Whether it's a critique of the meat industry or the callousness of modern society, it works. Marcos seems to be the moral center of the book, even as he participates in the killing and processing of people for food, which makes the ending feel like such a slap in the face. I read this in a couple days. I couldn't put it down and it got under my skin. Definitely in my top books of the year.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins 

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