The wisecracking title scarcely hints at the depths of fear, grief and guilt plumbed with relentless energy in Galef’s latest (Laugh Track, 2002, etc.).
Its dual narrative tracks the parallel ordeals of Michael Eisler, a psychiatrist who resides in the upscale suburb of Fairchester and cultivates fantasies of leaving his “take-charge executive” spouse, Jane, and Ted Sacks, a computer-geek pedophile whose dreamy pursuit of nubile preadolescent boys gradually focuses on Michael and Jane’s “advanced,” moody, seven-year-old, Alex. Galef chronicles in generous and stinging detail Michael’s sullen marital unhappiness (he’s convinced the imperious Jane is also unfaithful), his raddled relations with variously troubled patients and his awkward failure either to discipline or reach Alex—who gradually emerges as a confounding mixture of sweetness and implacable cussedness. Meanwhile, the sad tale of Ted Sacks’s own victimization by his hateful father shadows and shapes his path to becoming an emotionless predator trolling X-rated websites and joining in lubricious chat-room exchanges, fuelling his chaotic sexual urges with junk food and kiddie-oriented paraphernalia, and—through a series of coincidental encounters that feels somewhat forced—forging an acquaintance with Alex, when the boy, desperate to escape Michael’s oppressive close parenting, turns to “the man in gray slacks,” who appears to be his only friend. The decisive action, which begins at a skating rink and climaxes in Ted’s dingy apartment, will scare the bejeezus out of anyone who has ever been a parent. In the novel’s “resolution,” we realize that Sacks is a hopeless recidivist, planning future abductions, and that Alex is scarred in ways that have already begun to define his future.
Risky material met head on, in a courageous book that displays Galef’s considerable skills quite brilliantly. Prepare yourself for a rough ride—but don’t miss this one.