Hungry For a Good Book: Tender Is the Flesh

Read Time:2 Minute, 33 Second

Book cover image credits: Scribner

Review by Gretchen Purvis

Agustina Bazterrica’s horror novel Tender is the Flesh—originally published in
Argentina in 2017 and published in English translation in 2020 in the United
States—asks the reader to imagine a world where animals cannot be eaten for meat and
consequently meat consumption has shifted to human livestock, or “special meat,”
instead. Tender is the Flesh follows a former animal slaughterer, Marcos Tejo, who now
works at a slaughterhouse dealing in “special meat,” and his inability to reconcile his
moral discomfort with his job’s demands or leave his job. Tejo’s interpersonal
relationships—with his coworkers, such as the butcherer who calmly accepts her meat’s
shift from animal to human; with his estranged wife following their young son’s
untimely death, from which Tejo never emotionally recovered; and with his sister and
her children, who have no such qualms about “special meat” and push Tejo for access to
livestock, or heads, to rear themselves through his job—soon take center stage,
especially once his coworkers gift him a young, attractive female livestock.
Tejo’s initial inability to decide what to do with her—he resists his coworkers’
repeated requests for a celebratory barbeque together, as he finds himself “incapable of
killing the female in his barn” (pg. 52), but cannot decide what he wants to do
instead—offer Bazterrica ample opportunity to explore how both Tejo personally and
society more generally is affected by “special meat.” These moments, rather than
distractions from Tejo’s interactions with the gifted female head he keeps on his
property, are the core of the story and inform his attitudes towards her; when he
eventually makes his decision about what to do with her at the end of the book, it comes
as little surprise because everything previously has slowly built up to it.
Though Tender is the Flesh often focuses more on cannibalism’s dehumanizing
and often traumatizing social effects than the actual process of butchering humans for

consumption itself, the practice permeates Tejo’s nearly every interaction. This is a
horror novel, and there is plenty to unsettle and unnerve the reader: cannibalism, rape
(though not depicted, its occurance is obvious in the narrative), and animal cruelty and
death. When Tender is the Flesh does get explicitly violent, each scene comes sudden
and fast; you get the feeling the physical violence comes as an extension of heads’
treatment. There is a short but explicitly violent section in the middle, clinically
describing the slaughtering process, as Tejo leads several prospective employees—who
function as audience surrogates for worldbuilding exposition—through the
slaughterhouse and answers their questions about the process of keeping and
slaughtering humans as livestock (pg. 53-77).
Tender is the Flesh can be found in print for free at the Camden County Library
System (CCLS)—library cards are available for all current Rutgers students, regardless
of Camden County residency status, and books can be checked out for 3 weeks at a time
before renewal; for more information, look at CCLS’ website:—or for purchase elsewhere in
either ebook or print format, such as Target, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Walmart.

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