TOUCHED by Scott Campbell


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 A cunningly constructed if didactic debut that probes under a big issue--how parents and the justice system deal with a boy ``touched'' by a neighborhood child molester. Opening in the voice of Linda, the guilt-stricken mother of the molested boy, Robbie, the novel at first seems destined to be a mediocre Movie-of-the-Week vehicle. But the Betty Crocker mold soon breaks when we discover that Linda can't think of the neighbor, Jerry, touching Robbie without feeling her own secret lover's hand. Soon we're seeing how the flaws of a marriage seed the crime. Pregnant and married to Ken when she was 16, Linda thinks of herself as selfless, yet she pursues an affair during the hours when she should be supervising Robbie. Ken calls himself responsible because he's calm and steady--but he's an utterly remote husband and father. And Robbie's older brother, Danny, thinks he's doing his duty when he attacks Jerry in front of the neighbors, just as Linda's angry guilt drives her to scream ``Child molester!'' to the world and then press for Jerry's arrest, regardless of what might be best for Robbie. The core of the story is a portrait of Jerry and his wife, Jeanette: a couple with three daughters and a seemingly balanced life. Jerry's arrest reveals a man who can't help what he is, and a woman who discovers that forgiveness and unconditional love aren't enough. When Jerry pleads guilty rather than see Robbie cross-examined, Jeanette realizes that Jerry's love for the boy is actually, in a twisted way, truer than anything he feels for her. Commercial but with literary pretensions, this is a work flawed, ironically, by a writer exercising too much control and calculation on his material and by occasional lecturing. These are flaws, though, more than counterbalanced by Campbell's unconventional treatment of a subject that is usually a springboard for cheap melodrama.

Pub Date: April 15th, 1996
ISBN: 0-553-09996-5
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Bantam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1996


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