Because I discuss my favorite literary characters in the P.S. pages of my novel, TOWN HOUSE, I’m veering off topic slightly today. I going to discuss Barbara Gowdy’s HELPLESS – which is so good it took over my entire weekend.
Gowdy takes on a subject I never thought I could read about – child abduction. A Toronto mother is raising her exceptionally beautiful daughter on her own, oblivious to the fact that her child is being stalked by Ron, an appliance repairman who has convinced himself that the nine-year-old girl is being mistreated and needs a hero. Preferably himself.
Ron makes for a compelling antagonist. From afar, he loves little Rachel completely and convinces himself he’ll give her a better life. His intentions are twisted but, in some moments, pure. Almost. Ron alternates between a near-fatherly conviction that stashing Rachel in his basement is for her own good, and a lust so sick it makes him shake. And the more Rachel starts to trust him, the harder it is for him to control himself. At any moment he might blow, which is why you’ll need someone else around to make dinner, put the kids to bed, drive the car until you finish the book.
Other points of view were just as compelling. Rachel’s mother, Celia, is a mess after Rachel disappears, but I found myself thinking she handled it better than I would have. But, truthfully, if she had fallen apart I wouldn’t have been able to watch her live through my very worst fear.
Ron’s somewhat limp girlfriend is torn between vague realization that what Ron is doing is wrong and needing to believe he’s a swell guy. Again, Gowdy does a great job with her – her fear of losing Ron (what a catch) is so strong, she keeps his secret. Mostly.
Perhaps what is most terrifying about this book is it makes you realize that even the most messed-up excuses for human beings have their reasons.
I won’t give away the resolution, but will say this. In the end, Gowdy accomplishes the impossible with her monster. She makes him the hero he always wanted to be.