Posted Feb. 19, 2013
By Lara Santoro
By MELISSA CASTILLO
“The Boy” reflects a harsh reality of human nature: we are all eternally flawed. Richard, the neighbor, is a womanizer. Ree, the friend, is always high. Esparanza, the maid, has a gambling addiction. And Anna begs for stability between what she thinks she wants and what she was given. Their flaws are made that much more compelling due to their middle-aged status and children who seem to take a back seat to their personal battles.
Lara Santoro’s classic anti-heroine, Anna, was a foreign correspondent with a wavering cocaine addiction in a past, unchained life. The novel picks up in Anna’s present, which entails moving past a bitter divorce while raising an eight-year-old daughter, Eva, as a single-mother in New Mexico. Despite the title of the book, “the boy” is actually just a supporting character amidst the love story of a mother and daughter.
Twenty-year-old Jack Strand, referred to as “the boy,” is a symbol of temptation that drags Anna into a teenage obsession. Society expects a 40-something-year-old woman to be responsible enough not to become a blinded victim to lust when she has an eight-year-old daughter that needs to be watched.
Yet, as Anna continues to spiral deeper into the black hole of passion, no judgment is passed due to Santoro’s unrelenting honesty on the difficulty of balancing the role of a mother and being human. She brings the stressful ordeal of raising a child to life by describing scenes that an everyday mother wouldn’t think of writing, such as, “She’d left Eva screaming bloody murder in the car, as she stood on the curb looking in, arms crossed against the cold, tears streaming down her face.”
As Eva’s character develops, so does Santoro’s portrayal of Anna’s flaws. They’re emphasized by the wise-beyond-her-years role Eva plays. When Eva criticizes her mom for making out with the boy at a party, Anna’s reaction to the eight-year old is, “You don’t kiss boys at parties? The whole reason you go to parties, the whole reason parties were invented, is to kiss boys at parties. You don’t kiss boys at parties. That’s the craziest thing I’ve heard in my life.”
Anna’s immaturity and obliviousness to the dos and don’ts of parenting is also portrayed continuously through her cursing and Eva’s static response, “Mamma, you shouldn’t curse.” Their role reversal becomes a lovable and integral part to the novel.
The innocence of Eva’s undying admiration and Anna’s sincere desire to be a good mother despite her continuous mistakes are so deeply felt that it is likely Santoro was writing from her own experience. Just like Anna, she was a foreign correspondent spending much of her time in Africa until she had her daughter.
As she said in an interview with Aloud, a blog dedicated to women, “I kept working in journalism for a whole year after she was born but soon came to terms with the fact that I was raising a dysfunctional child by taking off all the time.”
Similarly, Anna was also the name of Santoro’s protagonist in her first and only other novel, “Mercy,” which was a finalist for the Foreword Independent Press Award. It was influenced by her time in Africa as a journalist working for Newsweek and the Christian Science Monitor.
One of Anna’s significant personality characteristics, that she could not be “tethered,” also belongs to Santoro’s organization of the novel, or lack thereof. Instead of writing in a clear timeline, Santoro jumps from present to past to interior monologue and often goes off on tangents. Because of this, there are times when rereading is necessary to fully follow the plot. Nonetheless, the plot is alluring enough that backtracking every now and then isn’t discouraging.
A beautiful aspect to Santoro’s writing is the symbolism she adds periodically through the novel. For example, she describes how the boy, Jack, “had taken over in a flash, an instant,” in regards to his “clutter” around her home. It’s clear she’s speaking on two levels, the literal space his things are taking up, and the metaphorical space in her life.
The boy never actually develops as a character despite the given perception that he would be the center of the novel. Instead, he serves more as catalyst towards Anna’s progression as a mother. At first, the unexpected change from a romantic to a parental love story is disappointing but, as it is also a message in the novel, the latter holds more significance.
This isn’t a happy book. It isn’t a funny book. If rose-colored glasses are for you, this book isn’t. It’s an honest look at the selfish nature that lives inside of everybody, even a mother. This book is for the imperfect.
- “The Boy”
- By Lara Santoro
- Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
- 176 pages
- Released: Jan. 15, 2013
- $24.99 in hardcover