What does a book published in 2002 by Alice McDermott have to do with a new release by Margot Livesey? The answer: they reveal the strong and vivid seeds of adulthood in their adolescent characters.
Alice McDermott captured my attention with her short but amazing novel, THAT NIGHT. Published in 1987, McDermott explores suburbia of post WWII where life should be perfect, where parents have created families and a culture that cannot be challenged. But when it is, when a “guy” who doesn’t meet the picture of a future husband is determined to have a family’s daughter, we read this:
“That night when he came to claim her, he stood on the short lawn before her house, his knees bent, his fists driven into his thighs, and bellowed her name with such passion that even the friends who surrounded him, who had come to support him, to drag her from the house, to murder her family if they had to, let the chains they carried get limp in their hands.” We can picture that era, the leather jackets, the sideburns. But the passion translates into any age.
In a CHILD OF MY HEART, published in 2000, McDermott’s the main character, Theresa, is on the cusp of change, wavering between the security of childhood and the lure of the life that adults lead, and of course, sex. The novel begins with Theresa’s voice:
“I had in my care that summer four dogs, three cats, the Moran kids, Daisy, my eight-year-old cousin, and Flora, the toddler child of a local artist. There was also, for a while, a litter of wild rabbits…They were wet and blind,…so small it was difficult to know if their bodies moved with the beating of their hearts or the rise of their breaths.”
And maybe it was difficult for Theresa to know where her developing body, her own beating heart’s growth might take her. She watched these children on the seashore in summer. People bare their skin. Children do too, and she is there to protect them. Because later in the novel, when Theresa finds herself enthrall to an older man, she tells us: “You could reimagine, rename things all you wanted, but it was flesh somehow, that would not relent.”
Adolescence is definitely that period in life where you are torn between the rubric of home and the lure of any place, activity, person—who is not a metaphor for family, rules and order. It’s a vivid, surprising time. No wonder talented authors take advantage of it.
Thus, I fell in love with the writing of Margot Livesey when first reading EVA MOVES THE FURNITURE. The tale begins on the day of Eva’s birth, which is also the day of her mother’s death. But over time, some companions that Eva cannot see, arrive to protect and guide her. Eva reflects: “…but my loneliness was like the slow gas bubbling up from the pond in the woods, poisoning even the sweetest of days. How could I turn away those two who wanted to be my friends when no one else did?’‘ The novel is the story of the choices Eva makes and how the “companions” guide her in those choices. It is a beautiful story.
Livesey’s latest novel, THE BOY IN THE FIELD, once again probes the whims, fevers and worries of adolescence. It also casts a darker cloud over what can be a tempestuous time in life.
Reviews promise: (thanks to Jenny Rosenstrach in the NYT) In the broadest sense, Margot Livesey’s …“The Boy in the Field” is a whodunit. Who attacked this boy in the middle of the day and left him for dead in a field? What would have happened if three unsuspecting siblings walking home from school hadn’t caught a glimpse of his red sock from the road? Why this boy?
Three sibling, Mathew, Zoe and Duncan come upon the above scene. They do what they can: one stays with the boy, one waves down a car on the road to call for help. One wanders the scene. Their gestures are open and fearless. Their gestures are the seeds to their growing. But what they do not know, and what Livesey probes in this fascinating story, is that seeing the “boy in the field” will change all of their lives. That change will even spread to their parents, the mother a solicitor (this is England) and their father who works a forge.
“You’re going to be all right,” Zoe said.
The boy gave a small sigh. His lips moved. The sigh became a word.
Each of them caught it. No more words followed.
But that was all it took for these three children’s lives to become attached to change.