A lugubrious account of a son’s fall into delinquency and his redemption through pet-rearing, by poet and mother Digges (Fugitive Spring, not reviewed).
Like many children of the 1960s, Digges was determined that her son Stephen would grow up differently than she did. Still in graduate school when the boy began kindergarten, the author was a single mother who provided him with a literate and cosmopolitan home but very little in the way of the traditional family strictures and disciplines that she had known as a child. It was a single motherhood of the sort that we have become quite familiar with in recent years—financially pinched, conventionally unconventional, earnest, and affectionate—but it went suddenly wrong when Stephen turned (at 12) into a monster of self-absorption and violence. In his Boston high school (his mother was by then teaching at Tufts), Stephen started carrying a gun to class, stole cars, threatened his classmates, and refused to work. At home he sat up all night talking on the telephone and continually threatened to run away. Things got so bad that Digges was afraid to drive through town by day, lest the police recognize her car and (looking for Stephen) pull her over for questioning. Shrinks, private schools, and endless recriminations do no good whatsoever, but a tough-minded counselor helped pull the boy (and his mother) a bit closer to reality. The real salvation, however, came from an unusual source: an epileptic bulldog named Buster. Having to care for a cherished animal who was utterly dependent upon him changed the way Stephen looked at the world and himself. He was drawn out of his own rages and loneliness, and eventually he went on to study art in New York. Today he is a working photographer.
Often moving but highly claustrophobic, this account frequently seems as self-absorbed as Stephen himself.