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Tender

A Novel

This book is available for download with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device, and with iTunes on your computer. Books can be read with iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.

Description

A Kirkus Best Book of the Year
An Electric Literature Best Book of the Year
A Lithub Best Book of the Year

A searing novel about longing, intimacy and obsession from the award-winning author of Solace.

When they meet in Dublin in the late nineties, Catherine and James become close as two friends can be. She is a sheltered college student, he an adventurous, charismatic young artist. In a city brimming with possibilities, he spurs her to take life on with gusto. But as Catherine opens herself to new experiences, James's life becomes a prison; as changed as the new Ireland may be, it is still not a place in which he feels able to truly be himself. Catherine, grateful to James and worried for him, desperately wants to help--but as time moves on, and as life begins to take the friends in difference directions, she discovers that there is a perilously fine line between helping someone and hurting him further. When crisis hits, Catherine finds herself at the mercy of feelings she cannot control, leading her to jeopardize all she holds dear.

By turns exhilarating and devastating, Tender is a dazzling exploration of human relationships, of the lies we tell ourselves and the lies we are taught to tell. It is the story of first love and lost innocence, of discovery and betrayal. A tense high-wire act with keen psychological insights, this daring novel confirms Belinda McKeon as a major voice in contemporary fiction, joining the ranks of the masterful Edna O'Brien and Anne Enright.

From Publishers Weekly

Dec 14, 2015 – At first glance, McKeon’s second work of fiction (after Irish Book of the Year–winner Solace) explores well-trod themes. Two college-aged youngsters in Dublin meet through mutual acquaintances, develop a friendship, and experience much elation and angst over the course of a year together in the late 1990s. But as the raw and claustrophobic story progresses, it becomes devastatingly clear that the path their relationship is taking is far from ordinary. For one, budding photographer James is gay and closeted, during a time when homosexuality isn’t widely accepted in Ireland. His anguish and frustration at not being able to love freely is deftly handled by McKeon, who mostly relies on what isn’t said to lend weight to his predicament. Instead, what propels the plot forward is the sheer force of Catherine’s blind love for James. She wants all of him, first emotionally, and then physically—a wrinkle that adds depth to the friends’ tragic coupling and makes their breaking apart so easy to predict and so heartbreaking to read. Catherine’s self-destructive obsession with James may verge on maddening for readers (though the author’s choice to saddle her with an interest in Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, written about Sylvia Plath and published in 1998, was a smart one). But the book’s final chapters, detailing the older and wiser friends’ bittersweet reunion in New York 14 years later, proves that time does heal the heart’s deepest wounds—or, as McKeon so aptly demonstrates, at least most of them.

Customer Reviews

a story far more complex and impactful than expected.

AudioBook Review:
Stars: Overall 4 Narration 4 Story 4

Starting a bit slowly, we are introduced to Catherine, a new student at Trinity College in Dublin. Sheltered, very awkward and insecure, much of the earlier story focuses on her adjustment and rather cringe-worthy interpersonal gaffes. Most notable in this section is her voice: a growing sense of self-awareness, the struggles to ‘get it right’ and the moments that are quintessential to all new university students away from home for the first time. As the story proceeds, Catherine meets James: and the two are soon inseparable. Catherine is a bit in awe of James and his bold way of being, a brashness that does seem to hide some inner tumult. When James lets down his guard and shares some of his own struggles, Catherine’s reaction is dramatic and emotional. Interpersonally, Catherine is still in grade school, and her inability to decipher the lines between friendship, love, companionship and obsession are wholly blurred.

Moving into the next portion of the story, Catherine’s obsession with all things James begins to show in the fracturing of her point of view. From a fairly consistent tale of a young girl hitting all the growing pains, we start to see the lack of grounding in reality, the true fragility of Catherine’s mental state, and her progressive decline of her own capacity to manage her life, her emotions or even her own behaviors. This story gets dark, and to McKeon’s credit she crafts the dialogue and emotional pitfalls to draw readers in, in effect bringing you back to those moments when everything depended on what you did right then.

Narration is provided by Michelle Ferguson and she managed to capture Catherine in ways that enhanced the story. Initially a touch timid and obviously self-censoring through the growth and confidence gained in the comfort of James’ company, to the manic, abbreviated moments as her control and stability start to fracture. In many small ways the story brings a snapshot of dissolution into mental illness, a checklist of warning signs to note. Ferguson manages the dialogue and the emotional subtleties without missing a step, or overworking for pathos.

Strikingly, where the story could have ended with Catherine’s dissolution, McKeon shows ambition in trying to fast forward to a point where the characters are, if not completely healthy, able to provide the perspective of time and distance as they look back on life. Resolution between the hopeful beginning and rather traumatic ending is a hard won and mostly successful venture, and the result is a story far more complex and impactful than expected.

I received an audiobook copy of the title from Hachette Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.

Tender
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  • $9.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Literary
  • Published: Feb 16, 2016
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Seller: Hachette Digital, Inc.
  • Print Length: 416 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.5 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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