Tuesday, August 16, 2011
Mouths of Babes by Stella Duffy
Publisher: Bywater Books
How many people, especially when they were young, took advantage of a weaker person for their own amusement, never considering what the long-range consequences would be? How many of us, now that we have the maturity of years, have looked back and thought of things we did and wished we could change the past? What would you do if your past showed up to remind you of your cruelty?
Saz Martin and her partner Molly are embarking on a new and happier phase of their lives. Molly has given birth to their daughter, Matilda, and is preparing to return to her work as a doctor at a local hospital. Molly's pay check means that Saz can give up her career as an investigator and become a stay-at-home parent for the baby. Since Saz's work often resulted in her being seriously injured, this seems to be a perfect solution and she is quite satisfied with the arrangement, until a voice from her childhood reaches out to destroy her peace.
Will Gallagher is a famous TV star and someone that Saz hasn't talked to in many years, nor does she want to talk to him now. When they were younger, they traveled with a pack of three other people and they led a very rough lifestyle, one that Saz would like to forget and deny. Will finally manages to make contact though and informs Saz that one of their victims, Janine Marsden, a girl they tormented in school, is trying to blackmail him. Janine insists that the only thing that will stop her is if the group agrees to meet with her.
Since they haven't seen each other in years, Will wants Saz to take the job of locating the other people and bringing them together. Saz doesn't want to do this, doesn't want to face Janine, but she's more terrified of Molly finding out the type of person she once was. She finds herself leaving Matilda with her ex-lover Carrie and deceiving Molly as to what she is doing. Eventually, Saz isn't sure which is worse, having Molly find out who she was or what she is willing to do now. The final confrontation has a shocking conclusion and will leave the reader with a lot to think about.
Mouth of Babes is extremely topical in a time when it's popular for young people to post videos on the Internet of themselves beating up other people. Numerous school shootings and other tragedies have been traced recently to the effects of a person being bullied by his/her peers and not being able to stand the pressure anymore.
The people who do the bullying usually grow out of the behavior and, in later years, come to regret what they did, but they seldom face the consequences of their actions. Duffy shows quite clearly that the bully's remorse does not erase the results for the victim. She uses the technique of juxtaposing scenes of Saz and who she is now with flashbacks of the teenager that Saz was.
In some ways, Saz was as much a victim of the group as Janine was and the reader is torn between admiring Saz and the person she has become and being appalled at her previous behavior. The final face-off between Saz and Janine is dynamic and demonstrates that, even years later, the act of being a bully can have consequences never imagined and can continue to involve innocent people.
Duffy is an accomplished writer and presents a mystery with a sophistication that is typical in British literature, but not often offered in American writing. There are several strands that must be resolved for the story to be complete and none of them has an easy answer. One of the most challenging comes at the end when Molly discovers in a dramatic fashion what has been going on and presents Saz with a definition of relationships that doesn't fit with the normal patterns of lesbian fiction. Mouths of Babes is an engrossing book to read, with lessons that will leave the reader with a lot to ponder.