Author: Agustina Bazterrica
First Published: August 4, 2020
Genres: Horror, Speculative Fiction
Format: eBook, Paperback
Source: NetGalley, Purchased
Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans—though no one calls them that anymore.
His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.
Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.
What would happen to the meat industry if animals were suddenly inedible? Wiped out by a terrifying virus that makes animals toxic to humans. Tender is the Flesh answers that question in the coldest, cruelest way possible: cannibalism. To avoid the collapse of multiple industries and to satiate humanity’s “need” for meat, the world moves toward state-sanctioned cannibalism, a world where humans are bred for consumption. This is nothing new, the industry is already there, just look at any abattoir, the mass production of meat is already here.
“Many people have normalized what the media insist on calling the ‘Transition.’ But he hasn’t because he knows that transition is a word that doesn’t convey how quick and ruthless the process was. One word to sum up and classify the unfathomable. An empty word.”
Marcos is an overseer at a slaughterhouse, and due to his role, he is intimately familiar with the industry—working with breeding centers, tanneries, game reserves, and laboratories. The world feels as if it has been turned upside down yet it feels so cold, so normal, the reader is forced to bear witness to the atrocity. Marcos is numb, grieving the loss of his family while dealing with a terrifying new reality, every sentence feels like a scream held in behind his calm. The consumption of human flesh feels banal, no more evil than the evil that already exists in society.
Tender is the Flesh is one of the ugliest most challenging works I have ever read. I felt guilty when I dared to feel relief for the main character and horrified when I didn’t feel more sorry for the “product.” The story is truly nauseating and gives readers a lot to think about our culture of consumption.
Warnings: graphic descriptions of cannibalism, gore, sex, animal cruelty