by Margaux Fragoso
The Wahshington Post
June 27, 2017
Margaux Fragoso, author of searing memoir of childhood sexual abuse, dies at 38
By Matt Schudel
Margaux Fragoso, the author of a controversial memoir that provided an intimate and often disturbing look at her 15-year involvement with a pedophile starting when she was 7, died June 23 at a hospital in Mandeville, La. She was 38.
The cause was ovarian cancer, said her husband, Tom O’Connor.
Ms. Fragoso’s book “Tiger, Tiger”, published in 2011 and translated into more than 20 languages, was widely praised for its literary style and its sensitive treatment of a forbidden topic: the long-term sexual abuse of a child.
“Picture a girl of seven or so,” she wrote, “who loves red gumballs that come from gumball machines but leaves behind the blues and the greens; a child whose sneakers are the kind with Velcro, not laces.”
“Tiger, Tiger” — the title is drawn from a poem by William Blake — focused on Ms. Fragoso’s complex experiences with a man who was 51 when they met at a public swimming pool in New Jersey. In the book, he is called Peter Curran (not his real name) and is depicted as someone possessing a perverse charisma.
She detailed the pain and coercion she received from her abuser, but she also described an affection that she could not find from her troubled parents.
“Written without self-pity, rancor or even judgment,” author Kathryn Harrison wrote in the New York Times Book Review, “ ‘Tiger, Tiger’ is the portrait of a man who will disgust and alienate readers by a writer too honest to repudiate her love for him.”
The book elicited an angry outcry from readers and advocates for sex-abuse survivors who said it was tantamount to child pornography and should never have been published.
“It is at once beautiful and appalling, a true-life ‘Lolita,’ ” journalist Wesley Yang wrote in New York magazine, “recollected in tranquillity by the victim herself.”
A graphic description of a sexual act, Yang wrote, “is perhaps the most indecent thing published in any major book of the last decade. It is executed with a remorseless candor that cannot fail to sear itself into the memory of whoever reads it.”
Much of Ms. Fragoso’s book revolves around her difficult home life as a child, divided between the twin poles of an angry, alcoholic father and a mentally disturbed mother who was sometimes institutionalized. When Curran entered 7-year-old Margaux’s life, she relished the attention of an adult who inhabited something of a child’s dream world: a house filled with animals, Christmas ornaments and an indoor swing.
“Hoping to make sense of what happened,” she wrote, “I began drafting my life story.”
She originally wrote “Tiger, Tiger” as a novel before reworking it as a memoir, drawing on journals she kept as a child and on letters from Curran.
“There was very little reflection in the voice,” Edvige Giunta, a teacher of Ms. Fragoso’s at New Jersey City University, said in an interview. “A reflective voice would have diminished the brutal reality. It was a literary choice . . . I would hate for Margaux Fragoso to be remembered just as a survivor of childhood molestation. She was a writer.”
Margaux Artemia Fragoso was born April 15, 1979, in West New York, N.J., and grew up in Union City, N.J. Her Puerto Rican-born father was a jeweler.
Her mother “was a mix of Norwegian, Swedish, and Japanese,” Ms. Fragoso wrote in “Tiger, Tiger,” who obsessively compiled scrapbooks about disasters. Her mother had been a victim of sexual abuse as a child, Ms. Fragoso wrote, and “had no idea how to recognize trouble, or to shield me from it.”
Ms. Fragoso graduated from New Jersey City University in 2002 and received a master’s degree in English in 2005 and a doctorate in literature and creative writing in 2009, both from the State University of New York at Binghamton. In addition to her memoir, she published poetry and fiction and had recently completed a novel.
Her first marriage, to Steve McGowan, ended in divorce. Survivors include her husband since 2010, Tom O’Connor, an English professor at Tulane University in New Orleans, and a daughter from her first marriage, Alicia McGowan, both of Mandeville, La.
In “Tiger, Tiger,” Ms. Fragoso wrote that Curran remained a part of her life until she was 22. She later learned that he had been arrested for sexual abuse of a foster daughter. When he killed himself in 2001 by jumping off a cliff, he left several suicide notes for Ms. Fragoso, including one urging her to write a memoir.
“The unabridged truth is naturally just very upsetting because people aren’t used to it,” Ms. Fragoso told the online Tottenville Review in 2011. “Some critics have thought I wasn’t openly judgmental enough of the people in the book, especially Peter. But I’m an artist, not a prosecutor. I’m not writing a manifesto; memoir is subjective.”
23-04-2011 - Como é mais que evidente, Margaux Fragoso (a origem do sobrenome é mexicana, não portuguesa) pretende ganhar dinheiro com o livro. O título está na moda, tendo sido publicados nos USA desde Janeiro a Abril sete livros com Tiger no título. Para além disso, sendo um livro de memórias, há no entanto muito creative writing pelo meio, o que pode até fazer duvidar da veracidade de alguns episódios.
Mas está bem escrito e lê-se com facilidade e agrado. As descrições gráficas de cariz sexual não têm nada de erótico, por isso, o livro nada tem a ver com Lolita.
No posfácio, a autora quer dar uma feição moralista ao livro que nitidamente não aparece no resto do texto. Nomeadamente, não confere nada com o que vem no verso da capa.
Escrever e publicar o livro terá sido uma tentativa da autora de se libertar do seu passado, mas o leitor duvidará que ela o tenha conseguido.
March 4, 2011
By Margaux Fragoso
322 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.
Who might know a pedophile better than the child on whom he (it’s usually a he) has lavished his attention, sometimes for years? Who has studied him as intimately, allowing him his humanity as most of us refuse to do?
Child molesters, reviled even within prison caste systems, receive little sympathy from the adult world — so little it’s hard for most of us to imagine how long-term sexual abuse can be not only facilitated but perpetuated by a victim’s loyalty to his or her abuser. Children on whom pedophiles prey, often neglected and needy, advertise hearts as well as bodies to be plundered; for the child who loves his or her abuser the sexual price exacted for what is offered as affection represents a betrayal from which not every child recovers. The lesson learned — that to be loved one must endure violation — sows a lasting tolerance, even desire, for injury and subjugation.
“Spending time with a pedophile can be like a drug high,” Margaux Fragoso observes in her first book, “Tiger, Tiger,” a memoir of her 15-year relationship with Peter Curran, whom she met at a public pool in Union City, N.J., when she was 7 and he was 51. He “can make the child’s world . . . ecstatic somehow.” Fragoso’s response to Curran, whose genuinely inventive distractions lure her away from the protection of other adults, will continue to mimic the course of addiction, inevitably delivering her to a desperate, entrenched craving for what threatens to destroy her life.
It begins innocently, almost. Under-supervised by her guileless, mentally ill mother and lacking the well-loved child’s reflexive suspicion of strangers, Fragoso finds a playmate with “bowl-cut, sandy-silver hair,” who “didn’t even seem adult in the sense of that natural separateness adults have from children.” Once she’s “crossed the length of the pool” to approach him, she asks if she can join him in splashing with his two stepsons. Seven, eight (“the most beautiful age” in Curran’s estimation), twelve, fifteen — as a girl, Fragoso never perceives Curran as he appears to those outside the magic circle he draws around the two of them, can’t see the man her adult self exposes to her readers: by turns pathetic and repellent.
Like the sinister Child Catcher in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” whose trap is disguised by ribbons, flowers and pinwheels, Curran has outfitted his home with purple-painted shingles; year-round Christmas decorations; an indoor swing; and a menagerie of reptiles, rodents and birds flying (and excreting) freely inside to demonstrate that in his private Neverland the usual rules don’t apply. Invited to his home with her mother — who, having been sexually abused herself, cannot even in her lucid moments recognize the danger her daughter is in — Fragoso is instantly smitten by the endlessly indulgent Curran. “I want you,” she tells him at the end of their first visit, “to make a schedule of days when we can visit your house.”
It’s testimony to Fragoso’s narrative abilities that she can render both her own and Curran’s points of view convincingly, as different — opposed — as they are. Written without self-pity, rancor or even judgment, “Tiger, Tiger” forces readers to experience Curran simultaneously as the object of a little girl’s love and fascination and as a calculating sex offender who cultivates her dependence on him while contriving to separate her from anyone who might prevent his molesting her. Balanced uncomfortably between these antipodes, “Tiger, Tiger” is the portrait of a man who will disgust and alienate readers by a writer too honest to repudiate her love for him. There’s little suspense, as we know from the first sentence that Curran has committed suicide and that Fragoso remains sufficiently intact to explain what — who — destroyed her childhood. And while some readers whose appetite for memoir may excuse the inaccuracies inherent to so subjective a genre, others may require a leap of faith to accept that a detailed account of early youth, including lengthy adult dialogue, could be reconstructed accurately.
So who — other than voyeurs looking for a sustained close-up of a pedophile in action — will want to read this book? To bear witness to a numbingly long series of violations of a child by a man who has honed his wickedness for decades is not more pleasant than it sounds. As a society we energetically oppose sexual abuse; as individuals most of us shy away from investigating a relationship characterized by creepy kisses and inappropriate fondling. Worse, we defend cowardice by calling it discretion — minding our own business. Maybe a book like “Tiger, Tiger” can help us be a little braver. Certainly, it took courage to write.
What begins with mutual intoxication follows a slippery trajectory familiar to victims of long-term abuse: orgies of tickling, hide-and-seek played in underpants, pretending to be “real” and therefore necessarily naked “animals in the jungle,” “Bazooka Joe” kisses requiring two tongues to pass a chewed wad of gum back and forth. An experienced hunter, Curran knows when to watch, when to make a move and what to say. “Only if you want to, sweetheart. No pressure.”
There’s no need to apply any. As Curran well knows, Fragoso’s home life is so punishing she’ll do anything to secure the love and protection of the man her mother has decided “was Jesus in another life.” Once he’s lured Fragoso into his basement lair, Curran explains it is her “great power” that summons the erection of his “magic wand.” Is it instinct or practice that suggests the perfect words to seduce a child whose father’s alcoholic rages and mother’s frequent institutionalizations have made her feel helpless, without any agency to alter her circumstances? As it happens, the act of fellatio Fragoso offers Curran as a birthday present inspires her with dissociation rather than any sense of potency.
Soon, what appeared a child’s paradise becomes claustrophobic. He can’t live without her, Curran tells Fragoso; if separation didn’t kill him outright, he’d take his own life. When she resists his tightening embrace, he cries. Tears are his currency, as well as praise, gifts and adventures: Curran tries to give Fragoso whatever she demands, telling her nothing can adequately demonstrate a love so absolute it makes its own laws. How can he help doing what love drives him to do? Fragoso, already the victim of her parents’ instability, doesn’t understand that love doesn’t excuse Curran’s molesting her because love would never permit, let alone inspire, such an act.
Nor would love insist she use a razor to remove her pubic hair, or say her vagina began to smell when she started to menstruate. Love wouldn’t work to undermine Fragoso’s connection to family and friends, cultivating the conceit of an us-against-the-world romance to escape culpability for violating her.
The real cost of a broken taboo is that the revulsion it awakens allows predators freedom to claim one victim after another: because we glance away from crimes — abominations — prevented only by vigilance, the most disheartening aspect of this story is sickeningly familiar. Years before meeting Fragoso, Curran forged papers to marry a 15-year-old; he “hurt” his daughters from a second marriage by “being sexual with” them; during the two years Fragoso’s parents were sufficiently responsible to keep their daughter separated from him, Curran was accused of molesting one of the children he fostered for the state of New Jersey. “Tiger, Tiger” offers us yet another opportunity to open our eyes and redeem ourselves.
Kathryn Harrison is the author of “The Kiss” and other books.
As contentious memoirs go, Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger, just published in the United States and out here next month, covers all the bases.
It outlines in appalling detail the author’s sexual relationship as a child with a middle-aged man, which went on for the best part of 15 years until his eventual suicide. This affair was tolerated by her mentally ill mother, herself a victim of sexual abuse, and her drunk, bullying father.
It has already caused a stir, with one American critic describing the book’s first moment of sexual content, in which Fragoso fellates her middle-aged lover, as “perhaps the most indecent thing published in any major book of the last decade”.
Now questions are being raised about exactly how much of the book is true.
Her American editor has been forced to defend its veracity, pointing out the “enormous amount of documentation” that exists in support of the affair, from Fragoso’s childhood journals to letters written to her by the man we know as Peter Curran, including some of his suicide notes.
If you want to read every last detail of the relationship between a prepubescent girl and her childlike adult companion – who in fact turns out to have a previous conviction for sexual assault against a minor – then this is the book for you. It delivers a stomach-churning kind of paedophile porn, and seems to delight in thrilling the reader.
The deliberately provocative cover line – “We were friends, soul mates and lovers. I was seven. He was 51” – is set against an alluring, slightly wistful author photograph. And this effect continues within the pages.
Fragoso’s book is not a straightforward misery memoir, in the sense of being a simply written account of abuse, but an intensely artful literary creation we are told she worked on while she was a creative writing student.
While it details the sexual acts themselves – and no one would suggest they should be edited out of a work of this kind – these moments are overpowered by the weight of the poetic language they are forced to bear.
The moment of fellatio, for example, is described using various fairy stories from a book Fragoso read as a child. Acts of drowning, swimming, drinking, and so on follow the momentum of the sexual crescendo. And the scene a few pages earlier, in which Fragoso climbs naked onto a motorbike and is shocked when Curran turns on the ignition is cringe-makingly titillating, describing how a “melting, searing, crazed feeling” bursts in her body.
Fragoso’s self-conscious writing style stamps all over any other effects her narrative might have created. But the main problem with her writing – and the reason the book has opened itself up to charges of falsification – is the lack of sophistication it displays in terms of the way the story is framed.
Though there is a prologue and an afterword which set the events in some kind of context, the story, including lengthy sections of dialogue, is presented as a chronological account of what happened, with few disclaimers or flashbacks.
One can’t help wondering why Fragoso’s tutors didn’t encourage her to write her book as fiction, especially in the light of the James Frey debacle, in which he ended up having to concede that his memoir was embellished. This might have liberated her to write the literary account she had clearly set her heart on – and might have got her closer to conveying in simple human terms the dreadful wreckage of a sexual predator.
Saturday 2 April 2011
Margaux Fragoso's Tiger, Tiger, a memoir of a 14-year relationship with a paedophile that began when she was seven, has polarised reviewers. For the Sunday Times's Daisy Goodwin, it was "almost as troubling as its awful subject matter", leaving the reader unsure if "her flat, affectless prose is a stylistic choice or simply the deadened testimony of a survivor". "I can't imagine why anyone would want to read this book," Goodwin concluded, "outside of Fragoso's therapist, members of her family and the odd paedophile looking for a cheap thrill." Julie Myerson disagreed in the Times, impressed by the author's ability "to explore her past with such unswerving honesty, courage and clarity". In the Observer, however, a debate on the book's merits proved one-sided. Rachel Cooke felt "exploitative, prurient and sometimes rather sick" after reading it; while the psychologist Oliver James commented that writing her experiences down may have benefited the author, but asked: "Why do we need to hear the story?" Like Goodwin, who referred to Lolita and Emma Donoghue's Room, he offered a literary comparison, contrasting the "undigested fact" of Tiger, Tiger with the "conversion of the lead of maltreatment into the gold of valuable literature" in the depiction of a family including an abusive father in Edward St Aubyn's Melrose novels.
Tiger, Tiger, the graphic account of an abused child's relationship with a 51-year-old paedophile, is already being hyped as the most controversial book of the year. A writer, a psychologist and a survivor give their verdict
Rachel Cooke , Oliver James , Anon
The critic - Rachel Cooke
Picture a seven-year-old girl. She is called Margaux. She likes ice-cream and gum balls, though only red ones. She dislikes puzzles and the scary-looking jokers in a pack of cards, which she insists be removed before any game is played. Now picture her lover, Peter. Yes, you read that right. Her lover. He is 51 years old, and a self-taught locksmith. He has limp, grey hair, cut in a bowl, and a collection of exotic pets. One of these pets is a cayman, "part alligator, part crocodile". The cayman, living in captivity in the oppressive fug of Peter's apartment, is tiny, just half the size of Margaux's arm. But his owner likes him that way. For Peter, small is beautiful. He would like Margaux to stay small, too. Her birthdays make him more than usually tearful, for they remind him – as if he needed reminding – that she is rapidly approaching the end of what they both think of as her "nymphdom".
If you want to know more about Margaux and Peter's 15-year relationship – conducted in full view of a number of perfectly sentient adults, it ended only when Peter killed himself by jumping off a cliff – then you should head out to your local bookstore and reserve a copy of Tiger, Tiger, surely the most hyped memoir that 2011 is likely to produce (already sold to 20 countries, this is a book, its publisher insists, which "has to be talked about"). But, first, have a think. How much more do you want to know? Or, to put it another way, how much more can you take?
There is plenty to unsettle and upset in Tiger, Tiger, not least those sentient adults, seemingly complicit in Peter's crimes in the interests of an easy life. But the most troubling thing by far is the attitude of its author, Margaux Fragoso, who is determined to spare us absolutely nothing, and so details not only every dubious "tickling game", but also such things as the way Peter's penis looks, his fondness for frottage, and the reasons why they were never able to enjoy full intercourse. Is this, as some American critics have politely suggested, a sign of her great survivor bravery? I'm not sure. It felt as blank as pornography to me – and the more it went on, the more convinced I was that only a voyeur or a pervert could admire it. Can Fragoso write? Yes. But not so well that you would read her for her style alone.
Inevitably, I've already heard Tiger, Tiger described as "Lolita, from Lolita's point of view". But this is lazy. When Margaux and Peter read Nabokov's novel together, he is upset that "Lolita didn't really love Humbert", a reaction that convinces poor Margaux she can be the best "nymph" ever, as loving as she is loved. Why does she need this love? Because she is otherwise entirely without affection.
The book is set in Union City, New Jersey, where Margaux lives with a mother who is mentally ill and a father who is distant and furious, and it is this home life – brutal and mean – that drives her into Peter's arms. She sees him at the swimming pool, splashing around, and asks if she can join in. Thereafter, she is smitten. He is so kind. A curious man-child who at first asks very little from her – even later, his line when it comes to sexual favours is "only if you want to, sweetheart" – Peter tunes into her likes and dislikes with exquisite enthusiasm, with the result that she comes to see him as a soul mate. The unwavering laser of his attention makes her feel wanted and alive. In a prologue to her story, the adult Margaux writes that spending time with a paedophile "can be like a drug high". In her own case, it was a drug she was unable to give up.
All this is beautifully done: a dark door unlocked with the snugly fitting key of experience. But still, something salacious lurks here, too. Why did Fragoso include such graphic intimacies? It seems to me that there are only two possibilities. Either the post-traumatic stress disorder she describes in an afterword has left her so numb, so utterly anaesthetised, that a part of her is still unable to grasp what adult-child sex means in the real world – in which case, a kindly editor should have stepped in and saved her from herself.
Or, she knows exactly what she is doing, and a part of her relishes these passages: their power to horrify and, perhaps, their power to thrill, to shift books. Naturally, I am unable to judge her on this score. But reading her memoir made me feel exploitative, prurient and sometimes rather sick. Is this cowardice on my part? No. Contrary to what Fragoso's supporters seem to believe, a desire not to have certain images imprinted on your mind isn't at all the same thing as burying your head in the sand and hoping that child abuse will simply go away.
The psychologist - Oliver James
I will be surprised if many readers of this book enjoy it, find it enlightening or recommend it to their friends. That is not because of the sexual explicitness. Exaggerated by publicity-seeking publishers, the intimate details should not disgust or trouble most adults, although there is more information than we need (Nabokov's restraint in this area remains the standard for how much is required for us to get the gist).
No, the difficulty is really that Fragoso has simply not created a memoir which is compelling to read or contains any deeper message (and I suspect it would have been the same had she told the same tale as fiction). The main emotions it evokes are depression and, occasionally, the feeling of being the voyeur of a lot of domestic nastiness.
A brief afterword offers this justification for the book: "By setting down the memories I've worked to break the old, deeply rooted patterns of suffering and abuse that have dogged my family through the generations." Doubtless this is sincerely meant.
It might be that she was also impelled by a desire to launch a literary career through a shocking idea: that a vulnerable, emotionally needy girl could feel love (though not sexual desire) for a man who sexually exploited her for a decade from the age of seven. Unfortunately, that is all she offers, a no-holds-barred account of the relationship.
In writing books for the public, it is not enough to just make others feel as depressed or empty as you. This is a sorry tale which just makes you feel... sorry. If her motive truly was to break destructive patterns, good luck to her, I hope she succeeded. By all means write it out for herself. Why do we need to hear the story?
The model for how to convert the lead of horrendous maltreatment into the gold of valuable literature is Edward St Aubyn's Melrose books, the final volume of which, At Last), is eagerly awaited in May. Its central character, Patrick Melrose, was abused by his father, a man of appalling sadism and some psychopathy. St Aubyn has stated that his father also abused him in real life.
However, the books go far beyond this maltreatment, subtly exploring Melrose's mother's motives and confronting questions of importance to everyone. They show how all of us are either robotically reproducing or reacting against the care we received. Whether from affluent or poor homes, whether hideously mistreated or just averagely neglected, this is the human predicament. In a triumphant end to the books, St Aubyn provides a moving and optimistic basis for seeking real independent volition. By contrast, Fragoso offers us undigested fact. In being so frank, perhaps she feels relief. But she simply transfers the damaged feeling from herself to the reader.
Of course it is a massive task to do anything else if you have been abused. As the Human Genome Project is proving, genes play little role in severe mental illness, and it is clear from this book that, at times, Fragoso was made schizophrenic by the abuse. There are 14 different studies showing that at least half of people diagnosed with this problem suffered abuse. On average, a woman who suffered it when young possesses 5% less of a crucial part of the brain for emotional regulation (the hippocampus) than an unabused woman.
There are similar findings for maltreatment in the histories of people with personality disorder and depression. But whatever the form that the subsequent emotional distress takes, alas, just evoking it in others does not make for enlightening or readable books.
If writing it all down helped Fragoso to break the cycle, great. But in needing to share it with us in this form, you cannot help feeling she still has much work to do on herself.
Oliver James's latest book, How Not to F*** Them Up is out in paperback
The survivor - anon
Why anyone would read Tiger, Tiger of their own volition is beyond me. When I was invited to review it I did what I think anyone would: shrink internally and shudder. Sexual abuse is a harrowing topic and, as a victim of it, my initial response was to feel culpable and apologetic for the book's existence. I've never read about abuse before: it is something that happened to me that can't be undone and the less I allow it to affect my life and to define who I am the more power I have over it.
As I read it, clenched, I went through myriad emotions: outrage, repulsion, sadness, grief, empathy, anger. The only redemptive feeling it prompted was admiration for Fragoso's unwavering candour: she is a talented writer and her memoir is executed without judgment or shame. But Fragoso's portrayal of herself seems almost completely defined by Peter's idolisation of her. I felt she was objectifying her child self in the descriptions of how imaginative she was and how conscious she was of her sensuality. That Peter has infected her self-image in this way sickened me more than the deeply disturbing graphic sexual content.
At points in the narrative, I felt it was an affectionate commemoration of Peter and a startling study of Stockholm syndrome. Perhaps the most significant thing about it is that every adult in Margaux's life is complicit in her abuse. By telling her story I do think, to some degree, she empowers victims of sexual abuse by forcing the world to bear witness.
But who are these willing witnesses? Who is it written for? Herself, as a cathartic act of self-empowerment? Fellow victims? Paedophiles? Or those people with a morbid fascination for perverts? It is a truly horrible read. As Peter insinuates himself into Margaux's affections, I was in the grip of suspense, awaiting the inevitable abuse of trust. And this is what I found distasteful – the sensationalism which will undoubtedly sell many copies.
The real question is whether this book is necessary. Victims shed their victimhood by voicing their experience. I, too, write to cope but I want to create things of beauty that defy the ugliness of abuse. I'm pleased Fragoso has spun her flax into gold, but the cynic in me can't help but feel it was, in part, published to capitalise on the inevitable controversy, thereby continuing the cycle of exploitation.
Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso, Penguin, 336pp,
March 26 2011 12:01AM
A memoir of the ‘romance’ between a seven-year-old girl and a 51-year-old man is shockingly frank and unswervingly honest
In 1985, seven-year-old Margaux Fragoso was at the local pool in Union City, New Jersey, when she noticed a man splashing about with his sons. She knew, from the wrinkles and grey hair, that “he must be old”. But he had “so much energy and brightness that ... he didn’t even seem adult in the sense of that natural separateness adults have from children”. The man didn’t approach her. Quite the opposite — Margaux had to “cross the length of the pool” to ask if she could join in the fun. Her mother chatted to him and, a few days later, they were invited to visit and meet his many exotic pets, along with his shy Hispanic wife and his stepsons (as the boys turned out to be).
Even then it was the child who phoned the man the instant she got home from that visit, begging to be allowed to come to his house “every day for the rest of my life!” She just about got her wish. But, chillingly, it was the start of a sexual relationship between the seven-year-old girl and 51-year-old Peter Curran that endured until he jumped off a cliff 14 years later.
The frank and unsettling nature of this beginning — that Fragoso seems more than willing to take responsibility for her own instinctive and powerful attraction to her abuser — is one of the many aspects of this memoir that lift it above the standard “victim” account and grant it an emotionally intelligent status of its own.
Yes, this is the story of a “charismatic paedophile” and his systematic sexual abuse of a girl who loses many crucial years, her nascent sexuality and (very nearly) her mind to him. And yes, it is every bit as sickening, shocking — and, in places, hard to read — as such a story ought to be.
But Fragoso, who seems to have been an exceptional child — who was open and perceptive beyond her years — and is an equally exceptional writer now, has a knack for the unexpectedly truthful detail, the queasy contradiction. There is no doubt, for instance, that the man who abused her was also her primary emotional relationship for more than a decade (I can’t quite bring myself to say “loving relationahip”, but in some ways it seems that they did share a species of emotional bond).
And it’s not what we want to think about paedophiles, and it doesn’t in any sense minimise or condone his exploitative and horrendous crime, but the two also shared many of the things — humour, fun and understanding, an ability to chat for hours — that we also expect to find in solid and enduring relationships. When Margaux’s parents, finally smelling a rat, stopped her seeing Curran for more than a year, she found it hard to eat and refused to thrive.
Still, the narrative unfolds with chilling inevitability. Margaux, accompanied by her mentally ill and (conveniently for Curran) perpetually distracted mother, spends more and more time at his colourful apartment. It makes a welcome change from her drab home life, where her bully of a father drinks too much and withholds affection. Curran, by contrast, always tells her that he loves her — or, more worryingly, that he is “in love” with her. He entertains her with games and dog walks and story-telling. He sneaks the occasional kiss — sometimes on the lips. Then he starts taking her down to the basement to see the kittens. Showing her the mother cat, he tells Margaux how he loves the “pot bellies” of little girls, so reminiscent of pregnancy — and then asks if he can show her his penis. Her quick, anxious response — she jumps into a cage and shouts “Look, Peter, I’m a rabbit!” — is heartbreaking.
All the blatantly self-serving and familiar tactics of the seasoned paedophile are here. Slowly and gently, Peter grooms his victim, explaining that society brainwashes kids into thinking that their bodies are dirty, when in fact adults and children should be allowed to express their “love” freely. In a moment that would be funny were it not so sad, Margaux finds it hard to stop chatting long enough to suck Curran’s penis, but she tries because she loves him.
With each month that passes, the details turn more grisly. Curran doesn’t want Margaux to get any older and finds her eighth birthday “depressing”. When she experiences an early puberty, he encourages her to shave her pubic hair. When she begins her periods, he tells her that her vagina has “gotten a scent” that reminds him of a traumatic teenage sexual experience — but he continues to ask her to perform oral sex on him. Astonishingly, Margaux retains her virginity until she is 16, when she practically begs him to relieve her of it.
And here, really, is the dark, difficult idea at the heart of this book. Curran, every day finding the more womanly Margaux less sexually enticing and, driven by guilt, an ageing libido and fear of the law, insists that they curtail their sexual activity. It turns out that he has already served a brief jail term for abusing a foster child, and there is a suggestion that he raped his daughters from a previous marriage. But Margaux is distraught when he attempts this “break-up”.
Years of abuse have left her confused, dependent, brimming with self-loathing: “I felt like a power source with too many of its outlets in use.” She has long watched porn movies and aped the “dirty talk” of adults in order to entertain her abuser but it makes for very tough reading when this sexually deadened teenager clutches at the romantic ideal of impregnation the way a normal kid might mope after a rock star.
In her afterword, Fragoso reminds us that “paedophiles are dangerous precisely because they trick themselves into believing what they do ‘isn’t harmful’, and that ‘silence and denial’ are the forces they rely upon to keep their true motives hidden”.
Well, in part because she manages to explore her past with such unswerving honesty, courage and clarity, this book is the exact opposite of that “silence”. It is loud and it is beautiful.
The afterword also tells us that Fragoso is now happily married with a daughter of her own. No sliver of biographical information has ever lifted me as much.
Review: Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso
Saturday March 26 2011
I met a person recently whose front teeth were removed when she was a child so that she could give better oral sex to her father and his friends. Now much older, she'd lived her life in abusive relationships, thinking hurt meant love.
Margaux Fragoso has tried to spare herself that fate by writing about her sexual and emotional abuse in a lurid memoir, which is her first book. Aged seven, and the only child of a fractious working class family, she was at the local pool with her mother when they met the charming Peter Curran. He entranced them, groomed the little girl and slowly, slowly persuaded Fragoso to become his secret love.
The 'secret' love lasted, with interruptions, until he died by suicide aged 66. It was such a toxic attachment that even now, Fragoso writes, "I still think about Peter, the man I loved most in the world, all the time." She compares being with him to a drug high.
Old enough to be her grandfather, he was 51 when he befriended Fragoso and her mentally ill mother in Union City, New Jersey. He played them like an arcade game, patiently waiting for the cherries to land in his lap.
Curran controlled her, body and soul. First he invited them to the home he shared with a woman, and her teenage son, who gave a family-friendly cover for his perversion. (That relationship was sexless.) The house was a child's paradise, with a big cuddly dog, weird-looking iguanas, an alligator and a turtle tank. Young Margaux was thrilled by his bunnies and fishies, by his sunny garden with swings where she could play princess, while Mom found in Curran a sympathetic ear to hear about her trials at home.
Little by little, tickling and affection developed into touching and fondling until eventually he brought Fragoso to his basement room for closer contact. She believed she was special, and tolerated his sexual demands in exchange for encouragement and attention, along with the promise that they'd marry when she grew up. Mom was so flattered by his friendship that she came to believe Peter was a positive influence in her daughter's life.
Her father tried to stop the contact when a lifeguard saw Curran kissing her at the pool, but neither Pop nor her later boyfriends were able to sever the leech-like attachment Curran built, as he had done with other victims. Curran insinuated himself into her family, defending her against her father when she refused to attend school and becoming the voice of reason as the family fell apart.
Fragoso paints a classic portrait of one paedophile, using a lyrical, seductive prose that stumbles clumsily between truth and titillation. He literally carved his name into her psyche and was able to do it because she was young and unprotected when he found her.
If Fragoso were a lesser stylist -- she is a poet, has a PhD in English and has been published in The Literary Review -- the story would be no more than another harrowing account of an abuse survivor. But as a talented writer, she is able to bring us into the world of child abuse with an intensity that is new. She lingers in detail on the premature sexualisation that gave her the erotic skills of a courtesan before she was 14 and left her heaving with a self-loathing and disgust that clings to the reader when this book is put down.
Fragoso's decision to write with the knowingness of a woman's voice, rather than the innocence of a child, is a much lesser achievement than Emma Donoghue creates in Room and worlds away from the fiction Lolita, which both she and her publishers cite. The scenes are written so graphically that they leave little space for insight or reflection. Accurate it may be, but the memoir fails to explore the corrupting power imbalance between them. She believes she is cruel to him, when more likely her actions were part of the twisted sado-masochistic behaviour he provoked.
Other than Fragoso's distaste for his wrinkled old skin, there's nothing overtly monstrous about Curran on the page. Inappropriately, I think, this lets Peter's perversion reach beyond the prose into the reader's world.
So Curran learns Nirvana songs because she loves Nirvana -- Fragoso read that as a sign of love rather than cunning. So he encourages her to read Vladimir Nabokov’s classic with him? She writes it as a literary parallel, rather than realising it was a cunning way to make her feel even more special by exploiting her narcissistic desire to be a great writer. It also blurs the psychological difference between seducing a fictional teenager as against abusing a seven-year-old child.
Nabokov’s book worked as literature because it trapped eroticism like a butterfly. Here, Peter is no Humbert and Fragoso is certainly no Nabokov. Curran's perversion fixated on young and pre-pubertal children. That's why he made her shave her public hair when she began to mature.
Tiger, Tiger's chief effect is to make Peter Curran famous for abusing and getting away with it, to a point where the publishers use his sick Lolita parallel in their marketing. Fragoso's postscript states that she wrote it to help society protect children from every paedophile's deviousness and perhaps it will. Yet in one of his suicide notes, Curran told her that she should write about their relationship. It's possible that this book -- which has caused a sensation in the US -- unconsciously answers his call.
Saturday 9 April 2011
This memoir somehow manages to make its controversial subject matter dreary
You will probably know – because according to the publisher, this book has "astonishing talk-about-ability" – that Tiger, Tiger is about a child's relationship with a 57-year-old man, which begins when the author is seven, and continues for 14 years until the man commits suicide. Questions have arisen. Is the book, which is called a memoir, "true"? Is it excessively explicit and prurient? Is it, as many have suggested, Lolita's version of Lolita? Is it therapy for the writer? Is it reasonable to publish such an account on the grounds that it will educate the public about the complex relationship between paedophiles and their victims? Or is it published, as the publicity suggests, for "talk-about-ability", and therefore about making Penguin's accountants happy?
I don't know the answer to any of these questions. I'm not sure I care whether it's "true" (even if it's entirely fictional, the situation, I suppose, is true enough somewhere), or whether it's a purely commercial exploitation of the author and/or readers (isn't that the real world we are frequently told we have to come to terms with?). But here's another question: is it a good book? It isn't a good book if it doesn't convince, but that would be a test of good fiction and good non-fiction. It isn't a good book if it's poorly and erratically written, or structurally banal. Having a story to tell isn't really enough to justify a book beyond a tabloid existence. And this story is especially dependent on the manner in which it's told.
Sometimes Margaux Fragoso, who wrote the book for a creative writing MA, gives an indication that she can write. She offers a child's view of "sexy women": "They laughed without making a sound, just opening their mouths as though they were laughing, clasping a limp hand over their lips, they complimented and touched you carelessly, as though you were a dog or cat that they could pet at will." But she appears to lack writerly judgment, and good advice from her teachers and editors. Too often the writing is either incontinent or incompetent. The child's first impression of Peter's genitals as "like a bunless hot dog with two partly deflated balloons attached" is clumsy and ersatz. When she ovulates, her oestrogen is "spiked with the lush brandy of luteinizing hormone", and in spite of her thanking 23 people for their professional editorial assistance with her book, none of them suggested she do anything about the sentence: "Whenever we were in the back yard, Karen would sometimes jump into the hammock with us . . ."
On the other hand, she does a good job of creating Peter as a whingeing, wheedling child-man who doesn't just manipulate the girl, but actually inhabits his own childish nature. It's that, rather than an adult use of childlike thought processes to control her, that disturbs and provokes disgust. When he demands fellatio, his infantile outrage seems genuine and all the more dreadful: "You made a promise. You promised me anything. Now you're going back on your word," he whines.
What fails is the character of Margaux (pronounced Margo, we are told, because the writer leaves nothing, neither sexual activity nor underlying motivation, to her readers' imagination or understanding). The little girl as the narrator depicts her veers between a post-psychology-101 understanding of her own childish craving for love wherever and however she can get it, and faux-naif retrospective descriptions of the adult world: the bunless hot dog alternates with an ice-cream cone with sprinkles for the penis, while in the same scene the seven-year-old announces to Peter, "My parents are repressed." A little while later she warns her father, who wants to cut her hair too short: "I'm going to suffer, Poppa," and pages and pages of conversations are remembered apparently verbatim and in complete sentences. The effect of this constantly varying, though unacknowledged, narrative point of view, is to distance the reader from the child's reality. It's not surprising that people who expect a memoir to tell them documentary fact, or people who require some kind of truth in novels, have problems with the book.
Lolita, definitely a novel, but a very good one, is too clearly and erroneously the model for Tiger, Tiger. Literature's most unreliable narrator, Humbert Humbert, projects his distorted view of Lolita as sadistically refusing to love him, which the prepubescent Margaux grotesquely echoes by acting out a whorish, sexually punishing alter-ego, Nina. The stealing of childhood – Humbert's bad-faith, maudlin concluding comment on hearing the distant sound of children playing – is continually and much too self-consciously referenced in Margaux's account. And Lolita's delicately depicted retreat into affectlessness becomes in Margaux a repeated and overt psychotic dissociation, as over-described as if it were taken straight from a case study.
Lolita it isn't. With all its explicit sex, melodramatic conversations and dogged chronological detail, Tiger, Tiger is as dreary a read as soft porn. It will titillate paedophiles and fantasists, but for most people, reading it will have the dismal, lowering effect either of reality TV or of a very bad novel.
Jenny Diski's What I Don't Know About Animals is published by Virago.
Lolita, only real
In artful debut, Fragoso chillingly details a childhood of abuse
By Margaux Fragoso
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 336 pp., $26
The molestation memoir is a much treaded upon genre, a favorite of Oprah and teen readers primed on V.C. Andrews. It’s a genre whose sharpness is wilted by all of its fictionalized versions, with despicable storylines and inevitable grotesqueries that put it always at risk of melodrama. Good literature so often relies on moral ambiguity, and the sexual violation of children is hardly a topic that inspires equivocating sympathy. But “Tiger, Tiger,’’ the debut memoir by Margaux Fragoso, is saved from schmaltz. It reads like a revised “Lolita,’’ told from the point of view of Dolores Haze rather than Humbert Humbert — a Dolores who chooses a PhD over a trailer park pregnancy. In “Tiger, Tiger,’’ Fragoso has given us the definitive portrait of both ruined innocence and misplaced empathy. The book is so powerful because it’s a work of verified truth, authored by the victim under her own name. Fragoso forces us to confront the dark world that exists just barely behind the bright one.
With virtuosic verbal precision, Fragoso summons a past peopled by friends and family who sickeningly seem to only half-know that from the age of 7 she is being continuously molested by a neighbor, Peter, who is almost six decades her senior. Margaux’s mentally ill mother is incapable of protecting her, and her abusive father is the very reason she’s compelled toward Peter in the first place. It all starts one summer day at the public pool when she asks him if he wants to play. He does, and her life is changed forever. The majority of Fragoso’s childhood and adolescence is spent in Peter’s bedroom, where she plays with dolls and writes fantasy fiction, where they watch porn and profess their love. Though the material is presented with first-person immediacy, it’s the later incarnation of Margaux who serves as the book’s omniscient narrator. From her, we learn about Peter’s previous arrests, his estranged family, and all the abused foster children.
“My perceptions were always devastatingly acute,’’ Fragoso explains, “a side effect of years of very little social contact with the world outside the one I shared with Peter.’’ With the help of diary entries she co-wrote with him, Fragoso is able to recall entire conversations and startlingly specific facts. The juxtaposition between childish innocence and sinister sex acts gives the story its awful pull. Some of Margaux’s first confrontations with male anatomy are followed by the Velcroing of pink sneakers. Margaux knows that when Peter asks, “How’s your belly’’ in a soft, sweet voice, it’s really code for him imagining her, at 8, pregnant. Peter’s preferences (chipped nail polish and cotton underwear) are symbolic of his arrested development, and the “clotted’’ ivy that veils his house foreshadows her tangled interior life.
Like Nabokov’s masterpiece with which it shares a theme, “Tiger, Tiger’’ draws its aesthetic success from the precise register of its prosaicness. In both books, squalid details accumulate. In “Lolita,’’ we’re meant to make judgments about Charlotte Haze based on her tendency to snore and the rush of genteel self-regard she gets after excusing herself for a burp. Her “bronze-brown bun,’’ taste for “preprandial sherry,’’ and pronunciation of envelope (ahnvelope) are meant to repulse us. Similarly, Margaux’s childhood traumas are tinted with ineffably foul, Nabokovian details: Mazdas, a friend named Rocco, a too-short haircut.
Fragoso is able to explain Peter in a way that makes him believably appealing to a young girl. “He didn’t even seem adult in the sense of that natural separateness adults have from children,’’ she observes. Before he commits suicide when Margaux is 22, Peter lives in a decaying old house, which he restores for its owner in exchange for room and board. He has a “strange fixation with Christmas ornaments,’’ and keeps a menagerie of elaborately caged reptiles and rodents. Peter holds Margaux to her idiomatic promises, taking her up on an innocent offer to do “anything’’ for him if he buys her some green beans at the grocery store. He persuades Margaux to perform oral sex on him for his birthday, reminding her of a vow she has already forgotten. But despite the countless citations of flagrant abuse, Fragoso makes no attempt to stifle Peter’s charisma, and she never shies away from confessing her own efforts at preserving the relationship’s secrecy.
Margaux grows up in a state of dusky comprehension, shadowed away in Peter’s dim room and only anticipating complex emotions, never quite feeling their pangs in real time. When Peter tells her, almost a decade after their first encounter, that for years certain people have suspected them — “They know, of course they know’’ — Margaux relays her visceral reaction: “I felt a burst of shame so strong it was like sickness. I was aware that they knew but I couldn’t stand to think about it.’’ Peter’s presence in Margaux’s life is too pervasive for her to confront directly until decades later; he came too early and stayed too long for it to be anything other than normal. And this is where the hideousness lies: that outside evil and illness can so thoroughly weave its way into a consciousness.
There are some experiences that come laced with a sense of indelible influence — certain train rides that you know you’ll remember forever even as they’re happening, a babysitter’s outfit that will remain a prototype of cool for years to come. Reading “Tiger, Tiger’’ produces one of those sensations. Line-by-line, the horror imprints itself; the book’s veracity can be easy to forget at times, since it reads so much like finessed fiction. But then you remember, and the factuality really stings.
In the afterword, Fragoso writes: “Pedophiles are masters of deception because they also excel at self-deception: they fool themselves into believing what they do isn’t harmful.’’ Operating under a crippled moral code, or changing lives while unaware of your false intentions, is the greatest threat for a writer, a person who transmits emotions with words. It’s why “Tiger, Tiger’’ is such a feat: Its details are not devices; it’s a work of recollection not rhetoric.
Alice Gregory is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in New York, The Poetry Foundation, and The New York Observer, among other publications.
Mar. 04, 2011
REVIEWED BY MARNI JACKSON
Peter, a 51-year-old man, has a relationship with Margaux, who is 7. It begins as a fatherly friendship and as her refuge from a chaotic family of her own. Margaux’s drifty mother is in and out of psychiatric hospitals, and her hard-drinking Puerto Rican father is often angry and abusive. Even though Peter’s house is full of uncaged parakeets, guinea pigs and a small caiman in a tank, he seems refreshingly normal. At least he seems kind.
I began reading Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger with a bookshelf full of “abuse memoirs” behind me and in no great hurry to read a new one. This better be good, I thought, because I don’t want to spend time on the page with another sexual predator and his victim if it doesn’t tell us something new.
But in this remarkable debut (from a young U.S. author who has published only in literary journals), Margaux Fragoso reminds us that “child molesters” do not exist in some separate category of humanity. They buy cereal, walk their dogs and plant gardens too. Like Peter, they often imagine they have rescued the object of their adoration from a world much crueler than they are. Fragoso spent 14 years, from the age of 7 to 21, in an intimate, off-and-on sexual relationship with Peter, and in this unflinching portrait of their time together, he emerges as a complex, haunted and haunting character – not necessarily forgivable, but human.
Margaux’s parents were aware of and tolerated her “friendship” with Peter, as did his estranged wife and sons. In one of those twists of irony that could happen only in a true story, Peter earned his living as a locksmith. He occasionally took in foster children too – all young girls. Margaux’s distracted, unstable mother often accompanied her on day-long visits to Peter’s house, where the usual rules were suspended; she would talk on the phone while her daughter hung out in another room with Peter, playing Super Mario, watching videos or working on “the Story,” an elaborate fantasy life they maintained, in which they sometimes cast themselves as animals.
Margaux chose a tiger as her alter-animal, a role she could disappear into completely. Back home, unable to sleep, she would practise leaping off the stairs onto her hands and knees, trying to land soundlessly, like a cat. Peter’s world was a sheltered island of childhood make-believe that bound them together, and kept their love “innocent.” When the play-acting turned sexual, it was just another rule in their ongoing game.
Margaux’s father, a jeweller, comes off as the more monstrous of the two men – at first. He is violent toward his wife and relentlessly belittles his daughter. In fact, his angry rants make the early parts of the book a bit hard to bear. For the reader too, a trip to Peter’s house become a welcome respite from a father who is so critical of Margaux that he uses his jeweller’s loupe to inspect the acne on her face. When Peter makes her feel loved and valued, a reader understands just how seductive that would be for someone in Margaux’s shoes. But, inevitably, Peter exacts a sexual price that robs her of this new-found self.
Peter, of course, was badly damaged as a child himself. His desire to keep Margaux forever frozen at the age of 7, his urge to shield her from her abusive family, can be seen as a futile attempt to recover his own lost childhood. He still emerges in the book as a repulsive and destructive figure. But the many ways in which abuse can echo down through families is captured in this memoir with a clear-eyed and hard-won empathy.
Drawing on the journals she kept at the time, Fragoso stays close to the raw details of their relationship, including her own wild rages and antisocial behaviour. She discovers the power she has over this older man at the same time she realizes how impossible it is to leave. She also knows that his urge to rescue her can only lead to his own self-destruction, because he is the one harming her the most.
Children deprived of love and kindness are vulnerable to adults who can mimic love in order to exploit them. This is the “message” of Margaux Fragoso’s memoir, although it’s a book that doesn’t need one. The honesty of the author’s account, told in the sort of visceral, child’s-eye detail that only trauma can preserve, draws the reader into the skewed logic of their world, until we forget how this story is bound to end.
Marni Jackson is the author of a family memoir of a lighter hue, Home Free: The Myth of The Empty Nest.
As she enters the media spotlight, Margaux Fragoso rarely meets in person. She will suggest a phone exchange if she’s feeling confident. Mostly, she prefers to answer questions from behind a curtain of e-mail. For this occasion, after some prompting, she agreed to an interview via Skype.
An inky image on my screen, she is a 31-year-old, casually dressed woman, with a chin-length brown bob and dark polish on short fingernails. She speaks in halting sentences and avoids the eye of her computer. When a question is too difficult, she demurs, stuttering part of an answer at first, then saying she will respond by e-mail if required.
Ms. Fragoso is a study in boundaries, perhaps because she never had any when she was young. Her first book, Tiger Tiger, a memoir to be released on Saturday, is the story of her 15-year relationship with a pedophile, starting when she was 7 and he was 51.
“There’s a social aspect to this book so it’s important to talk to the media,” she says. But even that good intention – to make others aware of how pedophiles operate – comes off less as bold assertion and more as tentative rationalization for why she’s subjecting herself to scrutiny.
Yet while Ms. Fragoso creates boundaries for herself in an interview, she blasts away others in her writing. She spares no details. “I didn’t want to write about the sex,” she explains, shaking her head. “But encouragement [from editors and creative writing professors] came about because in earlier drafts, without that horrifying sexuality, it read as a romance.”
Her book strips her naked for prying eyes. There are descriptions so graphic, they read like child pornography. The scene of oral-genital contact, which Peter Curran first pressed upon Ms. Fragoso at 8, “is perhaps the most indecent thing published in any major book of the last decade,” New York magazine wrote in its review last month. Her child’s-eye view of the adult male genitals – “The whole contraption looked like a bunless hot dog with two partly deflated balloons attached” – offers a discomfiting flash of whimsy in a tragic scene.
What makes the book exceptional is how she brings us into a child’s world in order to understand the complex nature of the bond she had with Mr. Curran. There are beautiful passages about a child’s warped view of magical love under the influence of a charming manipulator, who made his house a fantasyland with bright colours, pet iguanas, turtles and a big, furry dog named Paws.
She even humanizes Mr. Curran, whose suicide in 2001 at the age of 66, brought on by crippling guilt, was the catharsis that allowed her to try to heal through writing.
But the creative process was difficult. “The writer is saying I have to write on two levels, and be aware enough that I’m not that child any more so I can see him for what he is. That’s hard to accept because the inner child in me wants to believe something else but the adult part says, ‘No, I’m sorry. He’s not a good person. He’s actually quite monstrous.’
“I am still reading a lot of psychology,” continues the married mother of a daughter, who recently completed a PhD in English and creative writing at Binghamton University in upstate New York and is still in therapy to deal with the trauma. (She currently lives in New Orleans.)
“He was like a cult leader,” she adds, her large, dark eyes turned up to the ceiling. “In some ways I have to understand that it may be impossible to understand unless you have his level of derangement.”
It all began when she met Mr. Curran at a public swimming pool in Union City, N.J., where she lived in a one-bedroom apartment with her mentally ill mother and her hard-drinking, angry father.
“I had a very romantic view of Peter. I did want to marry him when I was seven years old. … I wasn’t getting that recognition in the right way. The child will take it from somewhere,” she says in the detached voice of a therapist.
“I’m not saying my parents didn’t love me. But my mother was psychotic and in hospital. My family was in the midst of terrible chaos.”
For two years, her father kept her away from Mr. Curran, suspicious of his motives. But her mother conspired to reunite them. “One of the tactics everybody needs to be aware of is that pedophiles will be nice in order to gain trust,” Ms. Fragoso says. “When they target the child, they target the family.”
At one point, a social worker attempted a failed intervention. “She went in very aggressively, maybe because she had seen a lot of cases and she felt upset at this horrible situation … but the problem is she took a judgmental attitude towards me, and that never works.”
By the time she was a rebellious teenager, she writes, she would sexually taunt Mr. Curran as she became aware of her power. She reveals her own level of denial and defiance as well as her sexuality – she liked pornography and wanted to get pregnant with his child – which can feel like an invasion of her own privacy.
“You have to portray both sides of yourself,” she says, echoing advice from one of her creative writing professors. “It would be totally fake if I start to be the complete heroine. “
Her relationship with her parents, who are still alive, is complex. “My father should have fought a little harder,” she says. But she’s protective of them. “They’re elderly. Physically ill. The trauma is reflected …” she offers before trailing off. “I feel at peace with the conversation remaining between myself and my parents,” she responds later by e-mail.
The triumph of Ms. Fragoso is the grace of her compassion – for her younger self, driven at one point to the brink of suicide, for her parents, the social worker, even for Mr. Curran, a serial perpetrator, it turns out, who had been sexually abused himself as a child. Her recovery – much of it self-administered through writing because she had no insurance for real therapy at the beginning – has resulted in a loving marriage.
“I always thought no one would care for me,” she says. “I felt ruined. But I have found out what real love is.” There were unhealthy relationships that came before. “One in particular was an enactment of the trauma inside of me,” she explains before declining to say more.
In a redemptive twist of fate, the writer in her is mining her own childhood. “I want to connect with others who have been through these experiences,” she says, her face turned in profile. “I believe we all have a purpose,” she adds, looking briefly into the eye of her computer. “It’s an important part of why I’m here.”
March 9, 2011
'Tiger, Tiger' Author Shocks With Memoir of Affair With Pedophile
Margaux Fragoso Describes the 'Charming' 51-Year-Old, His Games and 'Magic Wand'
By SUSAN DONALDSON JAMES
Margaux Fragoso stirs up old taboos in her shocking new memoir, "Tiger, Tiger," the story of her 15 years of torment by a pedophile, one that she simultaneously romanticizes and condemns.
Her abuser was Peter Curran, a pseudonym for a 51- year-old carpenter with "bowl-cut, sandy-silver hair" whom she met one day at her local New Jersey swimming pool. She was 7.
Fragoso's home life was unhappy. Her mother was mentally unstable, obsessed with calling advice hotlines and tracking her neuroses in her "fact book." Fragoso's father was a verbally abusive drinker and her warmest memory was when he drained her pimples with needles in the kitchen.
Curran seduced the little girl at his purple-shingled house filled with an indoor swing, reptiles and free- flying birds. He cleverly used games such as "Mad Scientist" to tickle and explore her body, showing off his "magic wand" that grew bigger with each appreciation of her affection.
She offered up "Joe Bazooka" kisses -- passing gum between their tongues -- which led to felatio and intercourse in her teens. By the time her parents figured it all out, her love and loyalty were sealed.
Curran killed himself in 2001 by jumping off a cliff when she was 22, leaving behind boxes of suicide notes, videos and photographs of Fragoso, many in underpants, evidence of the demise of her childhood. And in his final letters to her, he suggested she write about the relationship that he had always implored she keep secret.
"Which was ironic," writes Fragoso, now 31 and married with a daughter. "Our world had been permitted only by the secrecy surrounding it; had you taken our lies and codes and looks and symbols and haunts you would have taken everything."
Reviewers have wondered if an affair so monstrous even happened at all, but publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux says it has Fragoso's diaries from the age of 12. Fragoso says she wrote the book so society could understand the manipulation of molesters. The publisher declined to make her available for an interview.
Sex abuse grabbed headlines recently when Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., revealed in his own memoir, "Against All Odds," that he was molested by a camp counselor when he was 10, abuse that he revealed to his family this year.
The predator told the boy he would kill him if he told, using threats and intimidation that are classic tactics used by pedophiles. But Fragoso's seduction was more subtle and she became a willing victim.
Curran was childlike and charming, which is not uncommon behavior, experts in child abuse say.
"There is an enormous spectrum of child molesters and while there is a group that are very socially competent and know a lot about how to appeal to children, I'd say this guy was way up at the top of the charts in those skills," said David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
"He was good at normalizing what was happening and bringing the child along," Finkelhor said. "A much more common scenario is the abuser lures the child, but he loses the child pretty quick once the sex starts, and the child becomes ambivalent and grossed out and feels trapped and wants to get out."
Fragoso did initially feel "like I wanted to throw up," and slowly disassociated herself during sex-play sessions in the basement of his home, where she and her mother visited twice a week.
"One of the real problems is when these pedophiles are good and able to empathize with kids at some level," said Finkelhor, author of the 2009 book "Child Victimization." "Some of it is genuine and there is the sexual part that's evil and monstrous."
Children Can Love Their Sex Abusers
"I don't think it's outlandish to see that some victims have a tremendous level of love and affection and allegiance to their abusers," he said.
Such was the case with Fragoso, who described her relationship with Curran as a "drug high." [He] can make the child's world ... ecstatic somehow." Years later, after suffering from post-traumatic stress, she learned that she was not the only one: Curran had molested his own sons and foster children.
An estimated 93 percent of all juvenile sexual-assault victims knew their attacker and about 34 percent are family members, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Survivors like Fragoso are six times more likely to suffer post- traumatic stress and three times more likely to have depression. They are also more prone to suicide.
As distasteful as Fragoso's memories are to readers, they can provide insight for people who work with survivors, said to Jennifer Wilson Marsh, RAINN's hotline director.
"They can see the type of grooming that can take place and the tools that perpetrators and offenders use; how they pick out a particular victim that seems vulnerable and easy to isolate," Marsh said. "The most powerful tool is the attention and affection. … They are exerting power over the victim."
Pedophiles can also convince their victims that they won't be believed. "They say you'll be portrayed as just as sick or ill as me," Marsh said. "They instill guilt, shame and fear."
When Curran is afraid he might lose Fragoso, he cries and tightens his grip on her emotions. Fragoso numbs herself with Kurt Cobain music and alcohol, eventually attempting suicide.
In the book's afterword, Fragoso laments that her mother, who had been abused herself, could not save her.
"My mother had no idea how to recognize trouble or shield me from it," she writes. "Secrets are what allowed Peter to flourish. Silence and denial are exactly the forces that all pedophiles rely on so their true motives can remain hidden."
Kathryn Harrison, who reviewed "Tiger, Tiger" for the New York Times, had a similar four-year sexual affair with her father. She calls the book at once "appalling" and "beautifully written."
"We need to bear witness to the victims of abuse -- to the fact that it happens -– and become vigilant and protective, picking up on the clues and pursuing them rather than allowing taboo, and the attendant refusal to contemplate pedophila and incest, to afford sex criminals a measure of protection," Harrison writes.
Harrison wrote about her own consensual relationship in the controversial memoir, "The Kiss". Like Fragoso, she was starved for affection when her estranged preacher father returned on the scene when she was 20.
She, too, was lambasted for the incest, as well as the notion that a child and a molester and his victim could feel love and attraction for each other.
Sex Abusers Are 'Masterful' Manipulators
"Our sexual taboos are so strong that we shy away from acknowledging evidence of them being broken," said Harrison, now 49, who endured years of therapy after the relationship dissolved. "We are allowing taboos to shield sex criminals and by denying it." Her father, like Peter Curran, was a "masterful manipulator" who ultimately alienated Harrison from the rest of her family.
"He told me that I was ruined anyway and if I told anybody they would only revile me," said Harrison, who is now married and has three children of her own. "No man would ever have me."
Although it is the sex that shocks people, the evil exists in the "willingness of one person to sacrifice the other," according to Harrison. "I tried to give him everything my father asked of me until I got to the point where I didn't have anything in my life except him."
Usually, there are people close to the family, like Fragoso's mother, who "notice that something is wrong, but they are either too stressed by the circumstances or too disturbed to deny it," she said.
"Taboo is so strong that people have a reflexive denial of what they see with their own eyes," she said. "If more people like Margaux were able to step forward and say, 'This happened to me,' other people would be more willing to raise their consciousness. … We don't want to be a society where [abuse] is possible."
Child victimization expert Finkelhor agrees.
"Victims have very strong bonds and ambivalent feelings and those need to be taken into account in our response," he said. "Police have to understand that victims won't always cooperate with them and will lie to protect the offender.
"Judges and prosecutors have to know the victims are not necessarily pleased that the guys are convicted and sent off to prison for a long time. Therapists need to know that their survivor clients don't necessarily feel a lot of anger on top."
Finkelhor said that this real-life "Lolita" story might not have been well-received two decades ago when authorities were first trying to educate the public about sex abuse because it "doesn't really show how awful it is."
Although the prurient details of the book are "pretty disturbing" for some, they can help educate the public about these complex relationships between victim and molester, he said.
"As more people know about it," he added, "they can accept how horrible child molesting is and how widespread it is.
As Charles Dickens first demonstrated, there is nothing that so compels the emotions of readers as the account, in skilful literary hands, of a harrowing childhood. It almost doesn’t matter if the account is fiction or non-fiction — the neural pathways of the reader transmit the same message.
Last week I reviewed Townie, the memoir of writer Andre Dubus, whose younger self was nearly destroyed by a world of poverty and violence. This week’s memoir, Margaux Fragoso’s Tiger, Tiger, tells the story of a childhood lost between the hysterical misery of the author’s parents and the attentions of a pedophile. “I started writing this book the summer after the death of Peter Curran, whom I met when I was seven and had a relationship with for fifteen years, right up until he committed suicide at the age of sixty-six,” begins this memoir. “Hoping to make sense of what happened, I began drafting my life story.”
The title, of course, comes from the opening line of William Blake’s poem, The Tyger, and stems from the author’s “endless fascination” with tigers in her childhood. The nature of this fascination Fragoso does not spell out, but it clearly has something to do with the fierce drive of her own soul, wandering the forests of the night, to avenge its wrongs and preserve its existence.
That existence began in 1979, when she was born in Union City, N.J., to a couple she refers to only as Poppa and Mommy. Like the mother in Townie, Fragoso’s Mommy remains a shadowy figure. Occasionally hospitalized for bouts of depression and paranoia, Mommy passes the time writing in a notebook she calls the Fact Book about “every single disaster she heard about on the radio and TV,” along with reminders of things to do and people to call. Poppa is a jeweller frequently out of work, solacing himself with tirades against the world and his family.
“After a while,” Fragoso writes, “his tirades would gather momentum and turn into uncontrollable rages that often lasted for hours at a time. When he was this way he was like a man possessed and we were terrified to go anywhere near him.”
To the delight of Peter Curran, Mommy urges her daughter to imitate these tirades, which the girl proceeds to do in note perfect fashion. “Margaux is better than a stand-up comic!” Mommy proclaims. The incident is interesting because it helps explain why the author is able to reconstruct in this book long stretches of her father’s tirades, and also because it suggests that her father is not such an ogre — a child who can make fun of rants is a child not completely intimidated. “My brain lately feels like a pressure cooker,” Poppa proclaims — when he is not under pressure, he can be generous and affectionate with his daughter. He also passes on to the author a knack for storytelling.
From the outset, he realizes that there is something wrong with the man that his seven-year-old daughter meets at a neighbourhood swimming pool. Mommy just thinks the man is good with kids. Neither is able to halt the growing relationship between Fragoso and Curran, a 51-year-old living on a meagre disability pension. Curran resides in a house with several exotic pets, his two young sons, Ricky and Miguel, and their mother, Ines, a woman whose relationship with Curran is never precisely made clear, and whose point of view is never outlined.
Fragoso quickly becomes Peter’s “religion.” He tells Fragoso that she brings him “total happiness,” that he loves her “unconditionally,” that she is all he has in this world. As the years go by, the pair spend increasing amounts of time alone in Peter’s room, the epicentre of their own little world. “He didn’t even seem adult in the sense of that natural separateness adults have from children,” Fragoso writes, and much of their time together is spent in relentless pursuit of “fun” — games of Scrabble and gin rummy, visits to Coney Island and Palisades Park, sexualized frolics involving tickling and then kissing. For years, Peter pressures her into oral sex. “Human beings have organs that are magical,” he says, employing a strain of rhetoric familiar in our culture. “They combine with each other in this really beautiful, pleasurable way.”
But their relationship involves the head far more than the genitals. Childish fantasy is everything. They make up an ongoing narrative called The Story, and invent alter egos such as “Mr. Nasty” (Peter) and “Nina” (Margaux). Nina is “coy and tough and pleasing to men,” and can perform oral sex without implicating the real Fragoso. Nina might be a “whore” but not Fragoso, despite the “barter system” the latter institutes, to make Peter pay for their sex in money or affection or wishes granted. Peter, meanwhile, continues to shower Fragoso with extravagant endearments, intermingled with quarrels in which he gives Fragoso “the relentless silent treatment,” or even, as in one instance, punches her in the face.
As the years go by, Peter becomes increasingly desperate. “To Peter every one of my birthdays was another baby step toward the Armageddon of our relationship,” Fragoso recalls. “As it was, he was always complaining about my age. He said that ever since I’d turned 12 and gotten my period, my vagina had gotten a scent.” Peter, on his part, is aging rapidly. But the pair continue to cling together, linked in deep unhappiness. There is a heartbreaking episode in which the two go to a roller-skating rink. “He tried to hold my hand during the ‘couples only skate,’ Fragoso recalls, “and I found myself feigning hunger so that, while Peter got me a pretzel, I could sit miserably alone as other girls whizzed by accompanied by friends or boyfriends their own age.”
Ailing, penniless, friendless, terrified of going to jail, a “pathetic, weak, wrinkled, toothless old man,” in his own words, Peter Curran drifts towards his final end. It is a measure of Fragoso’s intense desire to “make sense of what happened” that this wretched man ultimately arouses our sympathies. Although readers are not obliged to credit all of Curran’s stories about his horrible childhood, they can be certain he had his own devastating passage into our world. It may, in fact, be Curran’s one stroke of good fortune in an otherwise luckless existence that he fastened upon a victim capable of understanding his actions — a victim who, in this unvarnished and starkly written memoir, could fairly tell his story as well as her own.
E L L E
March 08, 2011
By Ben Dickinson
Once upon a time, in one of the harder-luck precincts of Union City, New Jersey, there lived a lonely girl named Margaux. When she was seven, she introduced herself to Peter and his two boys, who were cavorting in the neighborhood public pool with extravagant joy. Her life would never be the same. Margaux Fragoso’s memoir, Tiger, Tiger (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), takes us down a dark path—but unlike so many true-crime TV shows and airport novels about lost children in gritty places, her tale loops amazingly around her own coming-of-age and sets her down in adulthood with a transformative twist. It’s a story larded with all the tropes of pedophilia that are lavished with rather too avid attention in our tabloid culture—but it breaks the mold via Fragoso’s vividly poetic descriptions of place and experience, her unfakeable old-soul empathy for the flawed souls who populated her childhood (even her transgressor), and the way in which she emerges from her hexed beginnings with a healing hand and a stalwart heart.
With a mother who was seriously mentally ill and a father who was angry, emotionally distant, and not around a whole lot, Fragoso was a classic mark for a bad actor. When she and her mother visit Peter’s creaky old home filled with a motley menagerie of rodents, birds, reptiles, and an irresistible lab-collie mix named Paws, her powerful evocation of this Lewis Carroll–flavored utopia makes us feel how inevitably came everything after. Soon there are tickling games, nude hide-and-seek, secret basement rendezvous, and a lot of talk about how “square” and “repressed” society is about adults kissing children and whatnot. But the truly central drama here is how Peter’s influence, affection, and undeniable nurturing of Fragoso’s creative gifts come to warp and deform the sensibilities and judgment of the other adults in her life. The manner in which Peter robs her of her childhood but still somehow points her toward a productive life turns into an astonishing and heartbreaking drama of her becoming—and his undoing, which rings down the curtain on this talented writer’s debut with a resounding finality that is, paradoxically, hard to shake off as you lay the book to rest.
Published Feb 13, 2011
By Wesley Yang
Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir
By Margaux Fragoso
Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Margaux Fragoso has a remarkable lyric gift and no boundaries. Her first memoir, Tiger, Tiger, provides a detailed account, in prose that is highly aestheticized without failing to be anatomically correct, of the seduction and molestation of a 7-year-old girl by a serial child rapist in his fifties. It is at once beautiful and appalling, a true-life Lolita written in the high rhapsodic cadence of a Humbert Humbert, recollected in tranquillity by the victim herself. It is also a publisher’s dream, seemingly too fantastic to be true—one that could only be trumped if the molester had also been a Holocaust survivor. Fragoso brings dignity to the project through the pitiless precision of her writing, and her forthright pursuit of an ambition to write the ne plus ultra of the genre—the thing that is more like the thing that it is than any other thing can ever hope to be. For better and for worse, she mostly succeeds.
Fragoso’s account of the mutually abusive and intermittently sexual relationship in which she remained with her molester for fifteen years, until his suicide at the age of 66, is an unstable mixture of bildungsroman, dirty realism, and child pornography. Fragoso brings us into the airless cell of her home life: a mother on a shifting regimen of anti-psychotic and antidepressant medications; a violent drunk of a father; both of them devouring each other in the genteel poverty of Union City, New Jersey. She shows us how Peter Curran entices her into a house decorated in bright colors, teeming with iguanas, a turtle tank, a guinea pig, an alligator, and a big furry dog. Then follows a series of escalating tactics—first “an enhanced version of the itsy bitsy spider” and “Mad Gardener,” and then “Tickle Torture Time,” leading to passages in which she describes, with a stomach-turning mixture of whimsy and clinical detail, the way an adult man’s sexual anatomy looks to a girl of 7, 8, and 13.
It is a mixture that many readers will find too much to bear. Poetic accounts of sexual extremity tend to be anatomically vague; explicit accounts tend to deploy a traumatized flat affect. Fragoso is both explicit and poetic. A scene in which an 8-year-old Fragoso begs to be spared the oral-genital contact that Curran is urging upon her is perhaps the most indecent thing published in any major book of the last decade. It is executed with a remorseless candor that cannot fail to sear itself into the memory of whoever reads it. (She eventually acquiesces to the oral sex, comparing the motion to that of a “fangless rattlesnake devouring a live mouse.”) Many who have been thus seared will regret having witnessed what no person should have to see. Others will delight in her audacity for a range of savory and unsavory motives.
Fragoso remains with Curran through her teenage years, hiding their relationship in plain sight. A lifeguard sees a 9-year-old Fragoso kissing Curran in the pool; her father intervenes and keeps her away from him for the next two years, but her mother—whom Curran has platonically seduced—conspires with her to restore contact, which continues unabated for a decade. Fragoso grows up, has crushes on boys, even dates a college classmate while still seeing Curran. Starting at a young age, she is cruel to him and conscious of her power over him. He makes of her a religion; she mocks his toothless mouth. She unflinchingly portrays her complicity in her own victimization.
Fragoso explains, in the afterword, her motives for doing the book. They are both therapeutic and public-spirited: She has written to inform the world how pedophiles operate and how they think, so that they might be preempted by parents and the authorities before they can do harm. She has written to help herself to heal. She is married, with a daughter, though the details of exactly how she broke the cycle of madness and abuse are left (one suspects) for the sequel. But something in Fragoso’s flights of wild lyricism resists the therapeutic motive. A pedophile creates a “fantastic kind of reality” that can feel “like a drug high,” she writes. “And when it’s over, for people who’ve been through this, it’s like coming off heroin, and for years, they can’t stop chasing the ghost of how it felt … It’s like the Earth is scorched and the grass won’t grow back. And the ground looks black and barren, but inside it’s still burning.”
March 1, 2011
By Maureen Tkacik
As a child, Margaux Fragoso habitually punched random women riding on the bus and was secretly unnerved when her parents' married friends kissed each other; she thought kissing was for fathers and daughters, and middle-aged women were for punching. But she could never forgive her father for telling the hairdresser (in Spanish, which he refused to teach her or her mother) to cut her hair short like a boy's, and as she grew older, father and daughter's intimate moments came only when he hauled her into the kitchen for acne-removal sessions, during which he carefully used sterilized needles to disable her breakouts. The rest of the time, he was either working or drinking or drunkenly abusing Margaux and her mentally flailing mother, an obsessive-compulsive insomniac prone to nervous breakdowns who occupied her hours dialing hot lines and cataloging her neuroses in notebooks. By the time Margaux' mother got around to querying the hot lines whether it was "healthy" for her daughter to spend so much time with Peter, a surrogate "uncle" figure 44 years her senior whose house mother and daughter visited every weekday afternoon, Margaux had been schooled in chess, basic animal husbandry, blow jobs and advanced deception.
In a courtship initially sealed over prolonged sessions of a "tickle torture" game called "Mad Scientist," Margaux had been seduced into a deranged liaison so all-consuming that, Ms. Fragoso writes, it was as if her pedophile had "reprogrammed" her very cells, hijacking her neural "pathways to joy" and effectively enslaving her reward mechanisms to serve his own agenda.
Ultimately it would last 15 years, and then end only by virtue of Peter jumping off a cliff, suggesting in a suicide note that she write a memoir about their lives together. "Which was ironic," she writes inTiger, Tiger (Farrar Straus Giroux, 336 pages, $26), her memoir of their lives together. "Our world had been permitted only by the secrecy surrounding it; had you taken our lies and codes and looks and symbols and haunts you would have taken everything." What significance could such a memoir have to anyone in the world from which distancing themselves had been the predominant preoccupation of their deluded struggle?
This may seem a gratuitous question now that Ms. Fragoso has a sizable FSG marketing budget to peddle her book, replete with a list ofOprah-ready book club discussion questions, but it is not—to Ms. Fragoso anyway. Tiger, Tiger is the story of Margaux' (d)evolving relationship not merely with a pedophile but with reality. It is a meditation on love and need and alienation and attachment, and on the human capacity for adapting to subjugation against an innate biological drive for freedom and autonomy. There are scattered pop cultural references, too, that anchor the thing in the epoch of adolescent angst that brought the world Kids and Nirvana. Before she found herself searching for signs of genuine affection between the stars of gay porn magazines, Margaux found something unspeakably sinister about Garbage Pail Kids cards; she no doubt had more hands-on experience with the subject than any other 15-year-old who ever heard "Rape Me" and worshiped Kurt Cobain for saving her life.
Ms. Fragoso is a poet, and her prologue employs poetic economy and lyricism to introduce us first to the metaphorical structure by which she has come to make sense of the relationship she is chronicling, in which Peter is a locksmith who systematically replaced the locks to every chamber of her psyche at the tender age of 7, "cleverly memorizing" her neural circuitry and manipulating it to serve his own perverse desires, so that spending time with him was like a heroin fix. But after emphasizing the pedophile's mystical power over victims, she tabulates the humble inventory her own left behind: barely legible suicide notes, 12 spiral notebooks of love letters written to her at various stages of her youth, 20 photo albums and a box full of loose pictures, seven videotapes of her playing as a child, several handwritten statements signing over the title to his car and a detailed handwritten map providing directions to its location—an attempt to save her the towing charges. "Peter, you couldn't walk more than a few blocks toward the end of your life," she writes, switching to the second person for a final paragraph that is about to get much sadder, for knowing all the miserable little details that render this depraved love story somewhat impervious to adequate summary.
Only in the afterword do we learn the clinical diagnosis for what we have just endured alongside Ms. Fragoso: complex post-traumatic stress disorder, which she assures us is perfectly described by the Sartre novelNausea. For Ms. Fragoso, there is no distinction between extreme existential alienation and PTSD, nor between literature and therapy. The cosmic profundity of what she has experienced—the book is invariably called "harrowing" in reviews and blurbs, and this characterization certainly applies to the underlying reality, if not exactly her representation of it—is inextricable from her gift as a narrator and contemplator of her own experience.
From the first time she successfully "pretend[s] Peter's penis is ice cream" on his 52nd birthday—a goal she has been steeling herself to accomplish ever since recoiling the first time the matter came up, due to her belief it was tantamount to "licking pee"—Margaux exhibits an almost comical determination to "make it work" with Peter, for better or worse, and until death finally parts them, the trajectory is mostly a downward spiral. Every time Margaux' birthday comes around, Peter becomes sadder and weaker, withdrawing further into the memory palace of his videotapes and photo albums of Reagan administration Margaux. Keenly aware of her expiration date, she invents a "sex goddess" alter ego named Nina—essentially a composite drawn from all the "sexy women" she has met hanging around the house Peter shares with his ex-girlfriend and a revolving cast of boarders, glamorous flirts who "despite their crappy lives ... treated the world with overabundant affection." Nina exists to bestow upon Peter an endless stream of sexual favors, in "exchange" for milkshakes, video rentals and reinforcing the myth of Margaux' full complicity in their arrangement. And Peter labors (albeit halfheartedly) to reciprocate, inviting her to fantasize about boys her age and agreeing to shave his testicles so long as Margaux eradicates her own pubic hair. But it is only the engine of his motorcycle that ever brings her to orgasm.
Eventually, the whole thing begins to disgust (even) Peter so much that he begs to call off their sexual relationship. Nevertheless, the pair remain irrevocably attached. He confesses his pedophilia to Margaux, admits he molested his daughters and even keeps the photos of other foster children and special friends on his walls and in his photo albums. But both of them know he has never indulged a full-blown affair with another victim, much less a 15-year "forbidden" romance. "What kept Peter from rejecting Margaux even as she grew into her twenties?" asks one of the more astute questions on the list of book-club discussion topics. Margaux was 11 when she and Peter readLolita together, and it dawned upon her that she "was fast reaching the end of my nymphdom." Still, Peter seemed more offended that "Lolita didn't really love Humbert," and in this realm Margaux could, it was obvious to both of them, outdo any nymphet.
Even as he deteriorates before her eyes—forswearing his dentures and his motorcycle—and starts to consume lethal quantities of Veterans Hospital-issued Xanax, Ms. Fragoso loves him and loves him and loves him, because the thought of stopping loving him is too painful to bear, as she recalls of the first time she ever harbored a malicious thought toward him, right after that first birthday blow job: "It had hurt me so much to think that for a moment I had wanted to kill him." It is only by killing himself that Peter can save Ms. Fragoso from the mutilating weight of this unconditional love. The story ends abruptly there.
As numerous book blogs have noted,Tiger, Tiger arrives in a bull market for "tiger"-titled books, on the heels of Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua's best-selling despotic parenting manual, and alongside the novels The Tiger's Wife, by Tea Obreht, and Tiger Hills, by Sarita Mandanna. It is largely irrelevant but perhaps worth noting that the extended rants and riffs on art, history, class mobility and manners delivered by Margaux' otherwise absentee father, an overworked Puerto Rican immigrant—whose hectoring of Margaux is well-intentioned (if also often drink-addled and abusive)—reflect Ms. Chua's pathological fear of generational decline. It seems miraculous that Ms. Fragoso somehow spared her parents the fate of joining them on their path toward mutually assured destruction. If her book sells even a small fraction of the copies sold by Ms. Chua's, it stands to do future generations a far greater service.
7th March 2011
A graphic account of an American girl's 15-year affair with a paedophile from the age of seven is shocking the literary world.
Margaux Fragoso's book, Tiger Tiger, has been compared to the novel Lolita while other critics have condemned its sexual content as pornography.
Fragoso, who grew up in New Jersey, wrote the book after her married abuser killed himself in 2001 at the age of 66 by leaping off a cliff.
It has already been sold to more than 20 countries and is published this month in the U.S.
Fragoso, now a 31-year-old married mother of a daughter living in New Orleans, tells how she first met Peter Curran - not his real name - at a public swimming pool near her home.
Curran, then 51, was splashing his two sons with water and she asked if she could play too. From that moment she was drawn into his seedy world.
With a drunken father and a mentally ill mother, she became an easy target for a man who unknown to her had a conviction for a sexual assault against a minor.
She says in her book:' Spending time with a paedophile can be like a drug high.' [He] can make the child's world...ecstatic somehow.'
Fragoso describes how their relationship slowly developed after he called her mother and invited the youngster to play with his children in the basement, his games became more sinister, but Fragoso went along with it even though she now describes him as an 'ugly old man.'
The games included giving a her a 'swift' kiss on the lips every time they found the right piece while doing a jigsaw puzzle together.
In the synopsis she writes: 'I still think about Peter, the man I loved most in the world, all the time.
'At two in the afternoon, when he would come and pick me up and take me for rides; at five, when I would read to him, head on his chest; in the despair at seven pm, when he would hold me and rub my belly for an hour.
'In the despair again at nine pm when we would go for a night ride where I would buy a cup of coffee with precisely seven sugars and a lot of cream.
'We were friends, soul mates and lovers. I was seven. He was fifty-one.'
Reviewers in the U.S. and Canada have questioned the truth of her account because the memoir reads more like a novel and love story.
Her first sexual contact with Curran at eight-years-old was described by the New York Times review as 'perhaps the most indecent thing published in any major book of the last decade.'
Fragoso, who attended creative writing courses at Binghampton University in New York, vividly and poetically recounts events and conversations from her childhood.
But her publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, have no doubts about the veracity of the book.
Executive Editor Courtney Hodell told the Sunday Times: 'We have a journal she wrote at 12. It is an account of their relationship in her child's handwriting.
'You can imagine it is very disturbing stuff. We also have letters he wrote to her that span many years.'
She admitted the name of the abuser had been changed but said Fragoso had deliberately told her story in detail to show how a paedophile manipulates his victim.
Fragoso, whose short stories and poems have appeared in The Literary Review and other journals, defended the amount of sex in her book.
She told the Globe and Mail: 'I didn’t want to write about the sex, but encouragement [from editors and creative writing professors] came about because in earlier drafts, without that horrifying sexuality, it read as a romance.
'I’m not that child any more so I can see him for what he is. The inner child in me wants to believe something else but the adult part says, ‘No, I’m sorry. He’s not a good person. He’s actually quite monstrous.’ He was like a cult leader.'
Fragoso said she had a romantic view of her abuser and wanted to marry him when she was seven.
For two years, her father kept her away from Curran, suspicious of his motives, but her mother helped reunite them.
She told the paper: “One of the tactics everybody needs to be aware of is that paedophiles will be nice in order to gain trust.'
Fragoso has now found happiness with her own family and says: 'I always thought no one would care for me. I felt ruined. But I have found out what real love is.'
Maria Gillan, professor of English at Binghampton, knew Fragoso when she first began writing Tiger Tiger and described her as 'shy and emotionally fragile'.
She said: 'Confronting all the issues was a very difficult thing for her. I think she did a good job of coming to an understanding of herself and the relationship.
'My sense is that she had to get it down as a way of getting it off her back. If anything I think she toned it down.'
What’s with all the tigers?
Publishing, like everything else, happens in waves. Wizards are trendy one instant, zombies the next. Vampires — well, vampires are always popular.
While it technically might have ended on Feb. 2, if the books coming into our office are any indication, 2011 is shaping up to be the Year of the Tiger. No less than seven books with the word “tiger” in the title will be released between January and April. We can perhaps blame Aravind Adiga for this trend; his debut novel The White Tiger won the Man Booker Prize in 2008. Vancouver author John Vaillant beat the rush; his latest non-fiction book The Tiger was released last August, though it only recently won the B.C. Award for Non-Fiction.
The most notable “tiger” tale might be Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, which caused a stir when it was published in January. Less controversial was journalist Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s A Tiger in the Kitchen, which was released that same month. And last week prolific Canadian writer Eric Walters released a YA novel entitled Tiger Town — the fourth instalment in his Tiger! series.
“I’m not too worried about overlap or confusion with my books,” Walters says. “There’s room for lots of tigers in the jungle of literature.”
It’s about to get even more crowded: This week sees the publication of Margaux Fragoso’s memoir Tiger, Tiger and New Yorker fave Téa Obreht’s debut novel The Tiger’s Wife, both reviewed in our pages. Meanwhile, Tiger Hills, by Toronto novelist Sarita Mandanna, will hit shelves by the end of March, and Jane Katch’s memoir about adopted children, Far Away From The Tigers, comes out in April.
“It’s a happy coincidence, that’s all,” writes Mandanna in an email, noting her investigations revealed there were 27 English-language hardcovers with “tiger” in the title released in 2011, far fewer than “lion” (44 titles) or “dog” (162 titles). “Each of the titles was likely birthed at very different times, and certainly from disparate moulds. I began writing Tiger Hills, for instance, nearly seven years ago.”
Indeed, tigers aren’t the only fashionable members of the animal kingdom; apes are kind of a big deal, too. Sara Gruen’s Ape House came out last fall, while Benjamin Hale’s The Evolution of Bruno Littemore is narrated by a chimp. That’s not all: Toronto journalist Andrew Westholl goes the non-fiction route with his new book The Apes of Fauna Sanctuary, while Montreal novelist Colin McAdam is hard at work on a novel about primates, too.
Want to make some easy money? Place your bet on bears being next.