I recently read Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan. It’s not for the faint of heart, but I admire the way Lanagan invokes mood and strong emotion in the reader.
Tender Morsels tell the story of Liga, a girl who lives with her sexually abusive father. Every few months, Liga gets pregnant and her father forces her to abort the pregnancies. When Liga's father dies in a freak accident, she finally carries a pregnancy to term and gives birth to her daughter Branza.
Newly freed from her father, Liga thinks about destroying the bed they had slept in but leaves it because it is her only reminder of her mother. However, Liga's good fortune doesn't last. Not long after Branza's birth, a gang of village boys invade her house and rape her.
(Oh, did I mention this book is marketed as YA? I’m not going to go into why Knopf was smoking crack with this designation, but Peta Andersen has a nice discussion on her blog on the limits of YA.)
But back to the discussion at hand. The following passage broke my heart. This passage appears right after the town boys leave Liga.
Liga only walked, only walked away. Slowly, because to walk was to hurt, she put the distance, step by step, between herself and her father’s house, where all her troubles had happened. No matter now that Mam had died in that bed. At least Da had called on Mam’s memory as he misused it. But that strangers should come, and with no awareness of its sacredness, one by one, have of Liga there, and think that that was the place to do such things – well, Mam must be truly dead and gone, and not watching from anywhere; clearly she was of no help to Liga now.
What was it about this passage that made me feel so deeply for Liga? I think it’s several factors.
1. It taps into the universal mother-child bond and the pain of losing a mother.
2.It invokes a well known symbol (mother as protector), and declares it useless. “Clearly she was of no help to Liga now.” Remember the first time you realized your parents couldn’t protect you from everything?
3.It takes away the one sliver of hope that remained to Liga. Her mother's memory was the only thing that kept Liga going during the years of abuse, and it was really effective to declare that memory useless now. It sent a clear message that Liga had no emotional reserves left.
I imagine these techniques and would work for emotions other than sadness as well. For example, you could have one thread of sadness throughout the story that gets resolved in the end. Actually, there's a good example of that in Princess Academy. Perhaps fodder for a future post
Do you remember a passage that made you really sad? How did it do that?
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