Margo Lanagan's Brilliant Tender Morsels
Readers may already remember Margo Lanagan from the beer-and-book posts I did several months back. She gave one of the best answers with regard to her novel Tender Morsels, now out in hardcover:
“[It] goes perfectly with a schooner of Toohey’s Old Black Ale, ‘a great Australian dark ale’ to go with a great Australian dark tale. Not knock-you-over in the alcohol stakes (4.4% alc/vol), this is probably a good thing, because there’s a lot to keep track of in this book: bears, babes, treasure, dwarves, giant eagles and a spot of time slippage. The story is lightly hopped, giving the reader/drinker a few underhand laughs during the smooth transition from malty, dead-sexy beginning to bitter, none-too-clean finish. The black malt enhances the forested gloom of much of the book, as well as its nicknames, ‘Black Juice revisited’ and the Doylesque Tender Morsels Bwa-Ha-Ha. Many readers/drinkers are timid when it comes to dark (t)ales. If you are curious about the dark side of beer/bears, Toohey’s Old/Tender Morsels is a great place to begin your exploration. Broad-hipped childbearing flavour gives way to the berry nice esters, which blend well with hoppiness and a hint of raw ptarmigan to finish with a bitter blend crescendo that will leave you wondering WTF? Why haven’t you been a dark ale drinker all your life? Do you dare to turn off your bedside lamp tonight? Try Tender Morsels and Tooheys Old Black Ale with a juicy, still-slightly-bloody roast, with game pies and slow cooked meats. Old is also a great flavour to go with strong cheeses such as gorgonzola, blue vein and Wensleydale. But pretty much anything fart-producing will do. Just don’t expect a comfy night’s sleep after you’ve stomached this lot.”
Now that I've got Tender Morsels in hand, I am happy to report that the book does not disappoint--and, indeed, supports her description above. And it's brilliantly written, full of fascinating characters, dangerous, moving--deeply strange in the best possible way.
Recently, I asked Lanagan if she would add anything to her description above. Her reply? "I would add a salad of spinach, mushrooms and honey-marinated underbark to go with the roast, and probably a flourish of Armagnac and a lot of wood-smoke, rosy cheeks and golden candlelight at the end of the meal."
My first thought on reading that answer was, anyone who can describe food and drink this wonderfully has my attention as a fiction writer. Which seemed to lead naturally into a question about fiction: What gets to you most about the fiction you love?
"As a reader, I want to feel that if I skip even a single sentence, I will miss out on some neat or vivid wordsmithery and on some crucial piece of information. What gets to me more than anything is the impression some books give me that the author is completely unaware of me, that she or he is so deeply engaged in the journey through the story that it’s a privilege to be allowed to just quietly sit in a corner of her/his brain."
Tender Morsels is a great example of the good things that happen when a writer takes this approach to fiction. It's a novel I expect to be on many, many year's best lists.
(You can also read my interview with Lanagan at Clarkesworld.)