“Can I play with you?” 7-year-old Margaux Fragoso asked. “Of course,” answered a 51-year-old man named Peter Curran. This chance meeting at a New Jersey community pool segued into a playdate, chaperoned by Margaux’s mother, at Curran’s house, a retreat teeming with exotic plants and animals where Margaux fell slowly and deeply under his spell, and he under hers.
In her memoir “Tiger, Tiger,” Fragoso pulls back the cloak of secrecy that nurtured a 15-year relationship, stretching from her childhood until Curran committed suicide. His house became a place where the girl could escape her mentally ill mother and emotionally abusive father. Curran became a father figure who supplied the love and support that were often tenuous at home.
This isn’t a clearly defined tale of victim vs. predator, for the power in their relationship often shifted. At Curran’s urging, the friendship turned sexual when she was 8, and Fragoso at times behaved like a jealous girlfriend, fretting about Curran spending time with his female housemate. She worried that he’d been intimate with other young girls, especially the foster child whose pictures he displayed in his room.
Told in a voice that combines childlike wonder with grown-up wisdom, “Tiger, Tiger” shows just how easily pedophiles can slip into children’s and families’ lives: “She will die if you try separating her from Peter,” Fragoso’s mother once told her husband, noting how depressed the girl was when they were kept apart. While at times her parents suspected the worst, they somehow managed to look the other way. Curran reassured the girl that society simply didn’t understand their love.
Fragoso manages to tell a disturbing story beautifully, leading readers into the secret world she inhabited for decades and even inspiring a modicum of sympathy for the man who manipulated and abused her. Hoping for some closure and healing — and perhaps to issue a warning — Fragoso knows she had no choice but to speak up. “Secrets are what allowed Peter’s world to flourish,” she writes in her afterword. “Silence and denial are exactly the forces that all pedophiles rely on so their true motives can remain hidden.”