REVIEW: “Child of My Right Hand” by Eric Goodman
Sourcebooks Landmark, 2004
CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge
Finished 4 Jan 2010
I’ve had a lazy few days and haven’t actually finished anything new for a while (I was on such a roll, too – damn!) but I thought I should update anyway, since I already had this review written and all.
I read Child of My Right Hand before I’d even heard of the GLBT challenge, and I was very excited to get started. I kept peeking at pages over the last week of December, and what I saw only heightened my anticipation. When I finally started reading on January 1, I was not disappointed.
The premise is not exactly unique: family of four moves to Small Town America from the Big City, only to find the locals less than welcoming due to the fact that one of the kids (in this case, Simon Barish, 17) is gay. In fact, the book I read immediately after this one, The God Box, takes an almost identical premise with a slightly different spin and comes to much the same conclusion. Incidentally, I was interested to note that there really is an incredible difference between Young Adult fiction and mature fiction in this respect; not just regarding the treatment of sex, which you would expect, but in the facility of writing and depth of understanding. I am firmly of the opinion that just because a book is for a younger audience does not mean that the writing should not be as good (you can imagine how difficult it was for me to find good books when I was young), but that’s another rant altogether. Suffice it to say that the magnitude of the difference struck me here for the first time.
What makes Child a wholly independent book is not the plot line but the characters. Each has their own complex inner life, desires and motivations. Simon, the centerpiece, is buffeted by the cruelties of high school society as he attempts to remain true to himself and pursue potential boyfriends; his sister, the forgotten child, flits in and out of the background, seen mostly through the eyes of others, more mature than her elder brother but still struggling to find her place; Genna, rocked by her husband’s affair, attempts to find a sense of belonging by locating her biological father (who turns out to be gay); and Jack, at a dead end with his professional research into Nazi genetic experiments, wrestles with his own sexual nature while embarking on a project to understand the role of biology in homosexuality, a subtle but fascinating counterpoint to the issues the novel raises. They are all vividly rendered and I found myself thoroughly rooting for each of them throughout their different but interrelated challenges.
What struck me most about this book, though, was the love with which it was written. The narrator (mainly Jack) came through with great clarity, and it was obvious how much he cared about his family, which, in turn, made it easy for me to care too. But more than that, it seemed to me that the author felt an extreme compassion for his characters, even the antagonists, and made no move to pass judgment on their thoughts or actions, which I personally appreciated. Make no mistake: this is definitely a very raw novel, with an extremely blunt approach to topics like adultery, masturbation, underage sex and prostitution, but I think its strength lies in the fact that it refuses to pull any punches. It goes right for the jugular and hangs on until the very end, you could say. Here are three people laid out and peeled open, and their thoughts ring true in a way that I have seldom found in fiction. While difficult to read at times (some things you don’t really want to know!), the sheer honesty and compassion of the narrative carries it through. My one complaint is that the ending felt a little rushed to me – it could have used a little more length to balance it out – but otherwise a full five stars. Definitely a great start to the year!