February 26, 2005

Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott

happybaby.jpgI checked this out of the library after reading a brief interview with the author in the Powell's bookstore newsletter. The book seems to be semi autobiographical, telling a series of stories from the point of view of a man named Theo who grew up in foster care in Chicago. The stories are in very nearly reverse chronological order, showing Theo as an adult and then moving farther back into his past as the book goes on.

The thing that caught my eye in the Powells interview was the author saying that it was a book about S&M, and then going on to talk mostly about the book's style of writing. I've enjoyed some other books that could be discussed in similar terms. It's not my kink, but there's something about pain play and humiliation play that speaks eloquently of the human condition.

And Elliott speaks eloquently indeed. There's not much flash in the writing in this book, but he manages to perform that magic that puts you behind the eyes of a character despite having characters with whom I have almost no experience in common. I often say this about books that I enjoy, but in this case it's especially true: the characters and situations seemed real to me. With this kind of material it would be easy to slip into caricature and to stylize the events into being more palatable to a general audience. Instead, Elliott keeps things raw, seeming to tell the stories the way they happened or at least the way the characters saw them.

All that said, the book's probably not for everyone. Some of the sex and violence content is consensual, but some is decidedly not. Caveat lector.

Posted by jeffy at February 26, 2005 08:38 PM