November 07, 2008

I just finished Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill. This novel was not so easy-going as the last book I read, for sure - it's definitely a little nerve-wracking. This story is about 13-year old Baby, who lives (sometimes) with her junkie father in Montreal. Telling her story in the first person, Baby is matter-of-fact about her situation for the most part. She doesn't seem really angry, and is not looking for pity. The whole story is a pretty gritty description of the life of a child on the street, and it's disturbing, of course, but it's not gross-out raw like James Frey, so it's more touching than shocking, to me.

The story is engrossing. The writing is nice. My one quibble is Ms. O'Neill's (over)use of cute descriptions or metaphors - "the sky was the color of lightbulbs that weren't lit" or insects caught in the light of headlamps at night were "scribbling out message from God". This is charming at first, but the frequency of this type of description became distracting and by the end of the book I was sort of over it. But that's a minor complaint.

One thing that really got to me while reading was how Baby found great happiness in such small good things that were offered to her: A nice pair of kneesocks, or the opportunity to wear a costume in a neighborhood parade. I keep thinking about that. Makes me feel sort of mean and unappreciative. (I'm sure I'll get over that, though!)

There's an interview with Heather O'Neill at the back of the book which led me to believe that the author had really experienced some of these things herself, and that scared me. (Your dad socking you in the eye has got to be a bad experience.) But I later read an interview with her in which she clarifies:

The novel isn't autobiographical, but it does come from things I observed as a kid and what and who I was attracted to as a kid... I was just so fascinated with people in my neighborhood. I was really intrigued with this pimp who used to talk to me and would try and get me to hang out in his apartment and smoke pot, which is where Alphonse [a character in the book] was born. I could not stay away from deviants as a kid. Whenever I met one, I'd just get so excited. My dad, who isn't like Jules, was continually stupefied by my choice of boyfriends. I use all the details that I encountered as a child in my writing now. They are like my huge reserves for characters and drama.

That's a relief... I guess?

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