THE OUTCAST by Sadie Jones (Random House), 347 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNN
The Outcast is such a sad book, it’s the literary equivalent of a movie weepie.
Set in post-Second World War England in a well-to-do town outside London, it’s a portrait of the misery bred by trauma and parental neglect.
Lewis’s mum drowns while they’re picnicking together by the river, sending the 10-year-old into a state of withdrawal. His father, Gilbert, gives him no comfort and does all the wrong things, including remarrying within a year.
Soon Lewis starts raiding the family liquor cabinet, and when that doesn’t settle him, gets out the razor blade to do some serious cutting before finally burning down the town church.
Anyone with an iota of experience with trauma and its impact can see this – and the rest of the many tragic events that befall Lewis – coming, but debut novelist Sadie Jones is in total control of the material.
With immense compassion, she expertly conveys the flood of relief that comes when a blade cuts through numbness to draw blood and pain. Her portrait of a physically abusive neighbour grasps the mindset of the bully-turned-child-abuser.
The other characters are also believable, especially Kit, Lewis’s younger neighbour, who offers him his chance at redemption, and Alice, the stepmother with boundary issues. The problem with The Outcast is that it borders on sudsy. There comes a point where you wonder if anything else horrible can happen to this poor guy.
But the story is powerful, and the author has big talent.