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Tender by Belinda McKeon
Tender is set in the 1990s and moves between rural Ireland, Dublin and, finally, New York. The story opens with the blossoming friendship between Catherine and James and the connection between them is immediate. She is Longford-born but now an English and Art History student in Trinity College Dublin. He is a fledgling artist and photographer and also from rural Ireland. They have much in common as they adjust to city life and attempt to find their identities, yet, the differences in their personalities is what makes them close.
Their early conversations and interactions reveal a young woman who is self conscious and often awkward, while James has no such inhibitions. This adds to his charm in Catherine’s eyes and his spontaneous public outbursts amuse and entertain her. There are several laugh-out-loud moments in the dialogue. The friendship that develops is intense and heartfelt.
Catherine and James are both inexperienced sexually, and, although James admits that he is gay, Catherine longs to consummate their friendship. The story becomes one in which a straight woman has fallen in love with a gay man. She obsesses about him and wants him exclusively for herself. The strength of her feelings changes her essentially decent nature and reveals a darker side, hurting them both in the process and building resentment between them. For James, we catch glimpses of how difficult it was to be gay in Ireland at that time.
Tender takes an honest look at friendship and desire, fear and courage. Belinda McKeon has written a story that is moving and powerful and deserves to be read.