'Tender' is the novel of the greatest rock-and-roll star the world has ever seen. It's so intimate and so powerful a story, it has to be fiction.
This is the story of Leroy Kirby, a poor white boy from Tupelo, Mississippi, who moves to Memphis, finds his voice, and transforms himself -- in one remarkable year -- from a guitar-picking truck driver to the most famous rock-and-roll singer in the world. It is one of America's essential and enduring legends, brought to life through the imagination of a superb novelist.
Reading Tender, you experience Leroy Kirby's life from the inside. His hard childhood with his daddy away in prison. His adoring, overprotective mother. The sudden metamorphosis of tender young Leroy into the bad-looking boy with wild clothes and the duck's-ass pompadour. The early recording sessions, the stunning overnight success, the sharp-eyed manager who takes Leroy under his wing. The first tastes of the alcohol and drugs that will one day consume his life. The hysteria of thousands of screaming, swooning girls. And, as the novel closes, you see the end of Leroy's glory years, as he is publicly, humiliatingly shorn for induction into the Army.
Imagine what it is like to be the most successful twenty-one-year-old in American history. That is what Tender does. In these pages Leroy Kirby comes alive, whole, with all his arrogance, humility, uncertainty, and power. Reading it is as close as you can come to living it.
Mark Childress's novel, Tender, is a little more than just a fine novel; it is a big, all-American, Technicolor dreamboat of a book, as vital and as intense as anything I've read in the last ten years. The legend is familiar to everyone who cares about pop music and rhythm and blues, but Mark Childress has invested it with an eerie mystery-train vitality that is only available to the talented novelist.
There's something else as well; this is the first novel I've ever read in my life which is more inside rock and roll than about it; through the eyes of Leroy Kirby, Mark Childress has made the mad early days of rock and roll seem not just comphrensible but inevitable. Beneath the cool prose line of this minimalist epic there is the same raw and feverish drive that propelled the early rockabilly stars as they created a new kind of music. Childress's understanding and love of this new music lends Tender the sort of piney woods authenticity I associate with such American classics as Elmer Gantry and All The King's Men. If you care about rock and roll, Tender is going to knock your socks off. This is a great novel, and as Childress documents the meteoric rise of his talented child-monster-prodigy, Leroy Kirby, he never misses a beat.
-- Stephen King
Tender is a dark, exuberant, and infinitely moving book about a young demigod who could only have been born in the time and place in which he was. It is a wonderful book, and should give Mark Childress the arena he deserves.
-- Anne Rivers Siddons
Mark Childress has written three wonderful books in a row, but Tender is by far his best. He takes myth, dream, and music and turns them into something miraculous, dazzling. It will be one of the year's most widely praised novels.
-- Pat Conroy
There is real music in Mark Childress's writing....Tender is like a good R & B riff that goes on for 400 pages.
-- Martin Cruz Smith
Mark Childress has revivified Elvis Presley as Leroy Kirby, a brilliantly realized fictional character...He redeems the biographical novel as an art form...(and) imagines a world that is deliciously claustrophobic and self-contained, yet startlingly real and irresistible...Whether Elvis lives is a moot question in the face of Tender. Leroy Kirby lives, anyway, and Childress makes him sing.
-- Publishers Weekly
What makes Tender such a hit, a literary gold record, is Childress' ability to get beneath the surface of popular folklore. He digs deep into the raw and tangled roots of youth culture and the formative stages of rock n' roll.
-- Frisko magazine
An evocation of an American phenomenon...Childress gets everything right. Tender carries Leroy down destiny's highway with the easy power of a gas-guzzling V-8. And once you're snuggled down in the leatherette upholstery, you don't want to stop.
-- Los Angeles Times
Tender is propelled by Childress' soft, breezy, shimmering prose. At once melancholic, amusing, somber, and exciting, it is a satisfying and revealing epic on the rigors of stardom and the high price of fame.
-- Kansas City Star
Even if Elvis Presley had never existed, Tender would still be a great novel.
-- W.P. Kinsella, The Vancouver Sun
Tender is a novel about Elvis, but readers who look can also find a novel about ambition, success, and the problems inherent in getting what you wish for.
-- Associated Press
Childress' down-home sensibility and his superb ear for southern dialogue help make this a luminous, uncannily knowing re-creation of an enduring American myth.
-- Kirkus Reviews
Tender offers an intriguing look at a boy born dirt poor with the ambition to acquire everything money can buy.
A realistic, moving account of the early days of rock n' roll.
-- Library Journal
Even if it weren't so supremely well-realized, Childress' conceit has the ring of innovation...(His) hand is so sure that his sprinkles of historical fact never jar, but only reinforce the caul of make-believe that he stretches into a novel. In scene after scene, chapter after chapter, Childress gets it right.
-- City Paper, Washington, D.C.
Tender may be hailed as a revelation...Leroy's story is so moving, so exciting, and ultimately so sad because it is so American. Seldom has the written word so evocatively captured the thrill of the days when rock and roll was inventing itself. Childress has imagined his story with sensitivity and insight, and for that anyone who cares about American culture must be grateful.
Energetic, smartly executed...the wonder of (Tender) is how successfully it works -- not just works, but packs a considerable emotional wallop as well. Tender catches the fire, the tempo and feel of the times and of the world in which its character lives.
-- Philadelphia Inquirer
Engrossing, full-bodied...One of the most unexpectedly satisfying books of the year. It's a novel written with the passion of a fan, but without the Enquiring Mind mentality. It will have you entranced from the first page.
-- Minneapolis Star-Tribune
What is amazing about this novel (and there are many things that are) is that the author took on a ready-made outline and made it new and exciting all over again. It is written with the same energy and exuberance that its hero brings to the stage. Accurate...exhilarating...powerful, even startling, Tender is a generous-hearted novel that makes you laugh, makes you sad and, most of all, makes you rock.
-- Jill McCorkle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
A successful attempt to give the fabled rock star a soul.... Childress lets his readers share the combination of exhilaration and terror Leroy feels.
-- Arizona Daily Star
Tender is a big, sprawling look at the world of popular music from the inside out, a book that turns so powerfully, and is so comically and touchingly imagined that the legendary Col. Tom Parker would give his left one to get the rights to sell it door-to-door in every hamlet in the land. In Childress' alchemical imagination, the facts of Presley's life are transformed into the kind of original gleaming gold that makes the Presley legend seem like mere second-hand dross. This book is damned enjoyable.
-- San Francisco Examiner
Remarkable...Childress reinvents the singer as an immensely appealing fictional character. While Childress is sympathetic, even tender, toward the young Leroy, he also explores his complexities and contradictions. This is the myth in the making. Leroy lives!
-- Orlando Sentinel
Childress digs deep into the psyche of his fictitious subject...(his) touch is alternatingly soft, abrasive, whimsical, and tragic. He magnificently recaptures the innocence of youth, and the grand fantasies of young boys. And best of all, he persuasively gives us a glimpse of the other side of Leroy-mania.
-- Houston Post
Tender is good reading, full of the feel of the South in the 50s and offering a thrilling picture of the birth of rock and the explosion of sexuality that fueled it.
-- San Jose Mercury-News
(Childress) takes the most familiar of legends...and then tells, with zest and relish, a story that is almost impossible for most Americans not to know.
-- Dallas Morning News
Tender is more than just the great Presley biography that's never been written. It's a sweet, unsentimental ode to the white-trash world, written by someone who understands the importance of a life spent eating biscuits and gravy for breakfast.
-- Detroit News
Childress takes a pelvis-rocking, lip-sneering, guitar-picking singer...out of American mythology and into real life in this virtuoso tale of America's first glimpse into sex, drugs, and rock and roll.
-- San Francisco Chronicle
Childress has a good ear and a sympathetic eye for poor white life, Southern variety, and a sense of humor about Leroy's raffish relatives.
-- Time magazine
Tender ranks high on the scale of Elvis lore for its seriousness and compassion. (The author's) depictions of poor white Southerners' speech, style, and superstitions ring true.
-- Chicago Tribune