HarperCollins, £5.99, ISBN 0-00-651413-8
Lily Carson is born in a middle-class family, but when she befriends “alternative comedian” Jamie Gee during one of her performance managing stint gone awry, she packs up and moves in with Jamie and a drag queen Mojo in a home best described as a suburban version of the trailer park. They have a great life together, three good buddies, and Jamie even develops a one-sided crush on her adviser/mentor/friend Graehem. But all hells break loose when Jamie gets involved with sick, psychotic Sean Powers who turns out to be a serial killer.
Stone Baby is praised by critics for its “compassionate depiction” of its characters. Yeah? This story is a fake. What does it think it is? The modern day Les Misérables? But while Victor Hugo at least gives his characters closure, Jollz Denby plunges hers into a neverending living hell by the last chapter. That’s right – no closure, just a smug, pretentious “Gee, life sucks, so bend over and endure” statement beloved of postmodern losers masquerading as cynics and realists. I wouldn’t be so angry if I weren’t lured into investing emotionally in these characters only to see them plunge screaming down the roller-coaster ride to hell at the last page. I feel manipulated and used just so that the author can go “Gee, schmucks, ain’t me a realist, huh?”
Less obvious is the inherent cruelty towards the characters that stem from the author herself. Jamie is pathetic, period. Oh, Ms Denby tries to tell me that Jamie is cool, Jamie is a survivor of rape and abuse, but at the same time, she has to depict Jamie as nothing more than a hapless codependent moron who just can’t survive without pathetically needing reassurance from anyone and everyone. Even the narrator, the supposedly ballsy Lily, is helpless to stem their horrific destinies. So on one hand, the author tries to make her characters heroes of the gutter. At the same time, she humiliates them with the glee of a dominatrix cutting down the hapless. I have no idea which way I should read this story – as a jeering passerby with rocks in my hand ready to throw or as a sympathetic observer. In the end, I just feel used and manipulated.
Hopefully the author has exorcised her faux-realism trip, PMS, or whatever by the time she writes her next book. Stone Baby leaves me stoned cold.