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THE BOY by Lara Santoro

THE BOY

By Lara Santoro

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-316-20623-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

A contemporary Mrs. Robinson busies herself destroying lives in a small New Mexican town.

Santoro (Mercy, 2007), a former foreign correspondent for Newsweek and the Christian Science Monitor, gives us Anna, a train wreck, her precocious daughter Eva and their Latina maid and de facto second parent Esperanza, aka Espi. Some semblance of domestic tranquility is overturned by the appearance of Jack, eldest son of the amused and bemused next-door neighbor, Richard Strand. Jack and Anna move toward one another with the simplicity of the heroic Jack and Jill, except Jack draws Anna not up but down, and when Eva leaves for an extended visit with her father, an uptight, witheringly sarcastic Englishman, Anna decides to plumb the depths. Anna’s fierce love for her daughter cannot save her from her desire to experience her body as an object of affection and a reservoir of lust. It is a believable story, its arc tragic. Anna’s friends Ree and Mia serve as a sort of spaced-out Greek chorus, and Anna's therapist Dr. Stewart’s office is upholstered in platitudes. Flashbacks hint at sins that eroded Anna’s first marriage, including infidelity and booze. Into this tight story, "meaning" starts to intrude. Soon, whole paragraphs of purple prose, as if pasted in from a different, and far worse, book appear, clotting the narrative. The effect is jarring, exasperating. The final act is abrupt—but punishment is a fixture of contemporary American fiction, and Anna had it coming. The central conflict, between maternal love and adult desire, is genuine. Even if Anna is damaged, her feelings are heartfelt and her crisis resonates.

Apparently meaningful passages mar an otherwise solid effort to tell a compelling story.