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HELPLESS by Barbara Gowdy Kirkus Star


by Barbara Gowdy

Pub Date: April 1st, 2007
ISBN: 0-8050-8288-3
Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

From the accomplished Canadian novelist (The Romantic, 2003, etc.) and short-story writer, an all-consuming tale of child abduction.

Gowdy pulls together a group of everyday individuals in Toronto who suddenly find themselves playing extraordinary roles when one of them—insular, delusional appliance-repair man Ron—crosses the line between dreams and active intervention. Glimpsing blonde, mixed race, nine-year-old Rachel Fox one day at her school, Ron immediately falls in love. The child’s exceptional beauty has already made her the subject of borderline-suspicious male attention, ranging from an advertising agency to a suitor of her impoverished single mother, Celia. While stalking Rachel, Ron persuades himself that she is the subject of abuse by both Celia and their gay landlord, Mika. Notions of snatching her and transferring her affections to him become increasingly compelling, and he spends time and money transforming his secure basement into a girl’s dream bedroom. When a blackout strikes the city, Ron seizes the opportunity to take Rachel. Gowdy’s skillful character portraits, enhanced by minutely detailed shifts of attitude and response, include not only the parent and child but also Ron’s compromised girlfriend, Nancy. Of the few narrative events, there is a detailed account of the police process and the media’s response. Mostly, though, Gowdy focuses on psychological developments: Rachel’s gradual involvement with her captors; Celia’s manic internal dialogue; Ron’s creeping acknowledgement that his protective adoration is in fact something less pure.

An assured, perceptive, deftly delivered story.