Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer

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Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer

Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Robin Leggett
Reviewed by Robin Leggett
Summary: An extremely powerful story about the search for a mother's love. Narrated by a 28 year old and his 8 year old self, it tells the difficult story of an only child in a family that takes on foster children and the damage that this had on the son's relationship with his mother. Disturbing and powerful.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781846688454

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Jon Bauer's first novel, Rocks in the Belly, is an emotional journey. The narrator is a man in his late 20s who has returned from Canada to visit his mother who has cancer of the brain. The narrator himself is emotionally damaged from the relationship that he had with his mother from childhood when she and her husband fostered children and, interspersed with the narrative, is the voice of narrator at eight years old and in particular telling the experience of one foster boy, Robert, who we know from early on in the book suffered a significant tragedy while in their care. What that event was will be revealed in due course, but it is clear that the young boy suffered hugely from jealousy of his mother's love for these foster children.

The book isn't nearly as dour as the outline of the story might suggest. The voice of the eight year old is often very funny and Bauer has beautifully captured the thoughts of a child in what is a completely convincing way. However, the struggle for this young boy to earn his mother's love is troubling and disturbing and in adulthood the narrator remains a very troubled young man and increasingly his actions will shock the reader. Certainly I felt sympathy for the young boy but this is challenged by some of his actions and certainly by the present manifestations of these problems. He's not a narrator that you can like, but there's something compulsive about his story.

It's a book that would make an excellent book club choice as I cannot imagine anyone reading it not being enveloped by conflicting views, many of which change over the course of the story. Is the young boy truly an innocent victim that has been neglected by his mother's well-meaning actions or was there always something darker about him? And why was his mother so drawn to fostering when the impact on her 'real' family was clearly so negative?

It's a brave and ultimately disturbing book and the emotional honesty of the voice is strong. So often books that involve a child narrator can be sentimental but Bauer never allows this to happen. He also expertly contains the links of the two stories so that you genuinely believe that the child narrator and the adult narrator are the same person and that's not an easy skill to achieve.

The nature of the story makes it a difficult read at times, although the style is always highly accessible and there is always the prospect of reconciliation between the mother and her son to keep you optimistic about the outcome, but you will have to read for yourself to see if this pans out. There are times that the story is quite draining to read, and it asks uncomfortable questions about the nature of family love and who is to blame when this breaks down and, ultimately if this can ever be reconciled. It's superbly written, but be warned, it is emotionally quite brutal.

Out thanks to the good folks at Serpent's Tail for inviting us to review this book.

For more slightly uncomfortable but emotionally honest reads then Room by Emma Donoghue and We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver would be excellent choices. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas is another novel addressing a difficult subject, also from Australia where Bauer now resides.

Buy Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer at Amazon.com.


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