Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tender by Mark Childress

The story of Elvis’s childhood, with the emphasis not so much on Elvis, as on childhood

Six hundred pages about Elvis Presley. And only his early years. Really?  Won't that be boring? But to my relief, the novel was compelling, easy to read, and poetic. The first 550 pages flew by. And the book is not technically about Elvis, but about a black haired swivel hipped singer from Tupelo named Leroy Kirby. The plot concerns a talented little boy growing up in Tupelo and Memphis, his love of fine clothes and his dreams of stardom. But the true subject of the novel is childhood, and the way a young child encounters the world of nature and the mystifying world of adults. The Elvis hagiography seamlessly fits into the structure of the story of the little boy growing up.

There are many unique fully rounded characters – the sensitive little mamma’s boy, the hardworking mother, the ne’er do well Dad, the puzzle playing Grandma. The scenes were consistently absorbing. The problem for me came in the last section, after Elvis becomes unbelievably famous and beautiful available girls are popping through the window. That plot problem did not hold a lot of interest for me and it felt like we kept rehashing the situation.

The Elvis story had a tragic end, which is only hinted at here. The engine of the story is mainly Luck.

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