Review: Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer

ROCKS IN THE BELLY

By Jon Bauer

How far can you push a child?

Rocks in the Belly is about a precocious eight-year-old boy and the volatile adult he becomes. During childhood his mother fosters boys, despite the jealous turmoil it arouses in her son. Jealousy that reaches unmanageable proportions when she fosters Robert, an amiable child she can’t help bonding with. Until the bond triggers an event that profoundly changes everyone. Especially Robert.

At twenty-eight the son returns to face his mother. He hasn’t forgiven her for what happened to Robert. But now she’s the dependant one and he the dominant force – a power he can’t help but abuse.

Written in two startlingly original voices, Rocks in the Belly is about the destruction we wreak on one another in the pursuit of our own happiness; how we never escape our upbringing; and a stark reminder that the most dangerous place for a child is within the family.

A compelling, powerful, and yet beautiful and funny novel.

Once again this is not the style of book that I would willingly pick up to read, the back cover sounded very confronting, challenging and dark, and it was right! This is about a nameless man (who introduces himself to people as ‘Michael’), he has returned after an absence to care for his dying mother. Both of them are haunted by their past, but are caught up in the roller-coaster ride of love and guilt.

It is written from two points of view, the one of the extremely troubled eight-year-old boy who just wants to be loved by his Mum and Dad and his twenty-eight-year old adult version, who unsurprisingly wants the same thing, but is haunted by childhood guilt and betrayal. This book is not a light read but is very well written and had me thinking for a long time after I put it down, it is hauntingly real, the characters are very much unlovable, and it is certainly a psychologists dream. I would still recommend that people try to read it, just simply as a comparison for their own life and family.

The book begins as ‘Michael’ has returned home from overseas, and this return back to his childhood home triggers a range of difficult emotions and memories. His entire childhood life his parents had fostered boys (never girls), as some parents just aren’t ‘good’ enough to look after children and his Mum had enough love to go around to help these boys.  ‘Michael’ was constantly reminded of the fact that he was part of a loving and good family, but never felt that he was given enough love just for himself and was aching daily for his family to be just the three of them, with no foster boys. At this stage in ‘Michael’s’ life his parents foster Robert, who finds a special place in his Mum’s heart, this causes no end of angst for ‘Michael’ and he retaliates in the way only an immature, angry and scared eight-year old could. But his parents are forever putting this behaviour down to his age and immaturity and seem to be totally oblivious to the effect the constant fostering is causing their son.

It all comes to a head one sad day, and the dynamics of the family are changed forever. It is this one single event that is the centre and focus of the book, although what it is, is not revealed until well into the book. And a few years after that ‘Michael’ leaves and returns as the unlikable, narcissistic adult hell-bent on a path of destruction, he is filled with rage and guilt, and still has no idea how to handle these intense emotions. He also struggles with the fact that the mother he knew as being formidable and domineering is now just an empty shell with limited speech and emotion.

It is not one of those books where a horrible, selfish and intensely scared child learns that the world will not bend to him and becomes a wonderful giving man who has learnt that love must be given to enable it to be received, but rather a book that will have you question your own life and family choices, and have you praying that the choices you make as a parent will help you turn your children into wonderfully well rounded adults.

This book left me feeling raw after reading it, but also glad (to a point) that I did.  It made me cuddle my kid’s extra hard and had me thankful that my own childhood – even though filled with my own dramas and guilt’s, had nothing on ‘Michael’s’.

Read and reviewed for www.mamamia.com.au .

 

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