April 08, 2003

Border Crossing, by Pat Barker

In my next lifetime, I am going to be independently wealthy. I will be able to skip the annoying requirement of going to work when what I really want to do is Finish My Book. This one almost, though not quite, caused me to take a personal day. Then, I also will be able to have a maid and cook to take care of the annoying chores I have to do when what I really want to do is Finish My Book. Life will be grand.

In reality, life would be pointless and reading would not be nearly as precious as when I carve out the time to do it.

This novel I carved time for. It totally captivated my imagination. I thought about it driving, doing dishes, cooking and waiting to fall asleep. I had a hard time putting it down. That NEVER happens anymore. The plot is fairly simple. A man and a woman are walking along a river, separately mulling over their marriage and divorce, when a young man attempts to drown himself. The man jumps in and drags the kid out, saving his life. The same man, a child psychologist, did an assessment 13 years before on a 10 year old boy who was alleged to have murdered an old woman. He finds that, in fact, the child understands death, the permanency of death, and right and wrong. The child is sent to prison, for life. The young man who attempted to drown himself is the child he had sent to prison.

Their meeting causes the psychologist to rethink his previous assessment, revisit the places the child has been kept and the people he has been with in the prison system and to finally make peace with himself that he made the correct judgment the first time around. It is an intense internal journey into himself and the mind of a very sick child, now a very sick adult. The writing is bare and crisp, the characters are fully developed and not overworked, and the settings are somehow fully dressed with a minimum of description. In my mind, I know exactly what these people look like, what the houses they live in look like and how they sound when they speak. Except for one memorable and hysterically funny scene, the novel is somber in tone but never mawkish or grim. Even near the end, when you have seen how twisted the young man has become, there is still hope for him. And I liked him, almost against my wishes. I want to dislike him as a twisted, manipulative killer, badly. But I don't.

Very interesting stuff. I had read Barker's "Regeneration" trilogy and remembered how completely involved with it I became. It's nice to know her skill continues. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Posted by Deb English at April 8, 2003 06:10 PM