Tigers, Not Daughters

(Tigers, Not Daughters #1)

by Samantha Mabry

4.5 stars, actually.

For all the writing and narrative as good as any of Oprah’s Book Club picks, and the alluding to King Lear with a decrepit father surrounded by lost and vibrant daughters (not to mention a nifty “greek chorus” trope of boys across the Torres’ street observing the family), and the author’s dance along the edge of magical realism without slipping to far down one side of reality vs fantasy, this one didn’t grip me as it should have.

Part of what didn’t work for me might have been the short chapters, the fragmented time sense at the start of the book, and anger at the pitiful frailty of the grieving father, his constant choice to be passive and demeaning towards his daughters. And that, in itself, might not be a fair review since his character affected me so much, it speaks more to the power of the writing than my dissatisfaction.

It might also be that the girls, almost all of them, despite this deeply cracked and faulty man as their role model, turned to men to help: whether it was dream, magical Rosa looking for her hyena holding genial Walter Mata’s hand in church, or fierce Jessica, trying desperately to be her dead sister exposing herself to abuse and then turning to another boy to fight her abuser until she could gain the courage herself, or Iridian, running to the house of the greek chorus of boys when frightened by a ghost.

So maybe after all this story did grip me, maybe because it was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t read it for more than a little at a time. Ana’s absence, the death of their beloved older sister, is such a gaping wound in the lives of each sister, that it is hard to bide with them for too long. Only Rosa, the sister most open to the numinous, to the possible return of Ana in her various forms, is bearable for her willingness to act, to live, to fight for her sisters.

Stylistically and at a prose-level, this book is beautiful. As a too harsh mirror of human frailty, it’s uncomfortable. Your mileage may vary.