Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Book Review: The Boy on the Bus by Deborah Schupack

The Boy on the Bus
by Deborah Schupack
The Free Press
© 2003
215p
Genre: Literary; Women in fiction; Raising ill children

There is an eerie quality to this story reminiscent of a dream. Meg meets her eight year old son’s bus but is confused by the boy who presents himself that afternoon. He looks like Charlie, almost. But he doesn’t have the habits or mannerisms of the boy she knew. He seems to have large gaps in his knowledge-base--things Charlie should know, he doesn’t seem to until he is coached by his Mother or Father or older sister. But most striking of all he no longer exhibits symptoms of the debilitating asthma that he’s had since age two. And his appetite has gone from zero to full speed ahead in the space of a day. His father, an architect, works on jobs out of state for months at a time and is of little help to his common-law wife in sorting out the identity of this mysterious boy who may or may not be his son. Charlie’s sister is similarly unable to clarify things as she is away at boarding school and had had such animosity towards her invalid brother, who monopolized their mother and seemed to get whatever he wanted with nothing but a sigh, that she had never really known the actual Charlie to begin with.

So Meg, and the reader, are left with the equivocations of her mind as she tries to sort it all out and tries to figure out how to relate to this new, healthy boy. Several interpretations would almost fit the evidence presented in the narrative but none of them quite explain everything. Could this boy be a ghost? Or is the rest of the family humoring Meg who had been home alone with him the night before when he’d had a severe asthma attack that he possibly didn’t survive and this is now a projection of her imagination created by the guilt for that night, that one time, not rushing straight to his bed to soothe and coach him though the breathing exercises and administer the meds? Or is it simply that Meg is having difficulty adjusting to her changed role in her son’s life now that he doesn’t need her undivided attention 24/7, now that he has apparently survived an extreme attack without her assistance and then gone into an unexpected remission?

Even though these questions are all left hanging, at least in my mind, it doesn’t detract from the experience of reading this story. Schupack’s exquisite handling of language and her perceptive examination of a family dynamics makes this a very rich reading experience which will haunt you long after you lay the book down.

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This review was recycled from my Joyread site. I read this in 2004.

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