Rocks in the Belly by Jon Bauer
Published on 7th May 2012
'Rocks in the Belly' by Jon Bauer came to my attention when it was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012. As I read this book, I found its subject matter dark, deep and somewhat disturbing. But the plot is free flowing and gripping and the characters are interesting, intense and realistic. Though the character of "Auntie Deadly" does not feature prominently in the story, the author cleverly uses imagery to help create a lasting impression of this person in the readers mind.
The author also has the ability to draw the reader into commonplace situations which helped me get to know the characters very well. Jon Bauer cleverly creates a sense of foreboding throughout the book. The plot in Rocks in the Belly moves from the life of the narrator as an eight year old boy and his life as an adult. I can sometimes find it hard to read books that move from the past to the present and I can sometimes lose my way in the plot. But the author does this superbly and clearly and it gives an added dimension to the plot and contributes greatly to the storyline.
Jon Bauer cleverly uses words and images to show the narrator as being "a funny child". As a young boy, he tells people that he is fostered, he puts his hand in the fire and was constantly checking his barometer in his bedroom to measure the amount of rain that has fallen. The narrator was jealous of his parents fostering children, especially the last child Robert. In fact, I was left wondering if the narrator had been involved in the accident that had such tragic consequences for Robert or if it had only been an accident.
As a child, the narrator had a difficult relationship with his mother. As a young man of twenty-eight the narrator has to face and take care of his dying mother. Sadly he abuses the power he has over her. At the end of the book, I was left wondering if his final actions contributed to her death.
This book deals with family, a mother who fails to deal with her son's insecurities and demons, a father who appears slightly inept and bumbles his way through life. As an adult the narrator is full of hate and anger against his mother and life in general. The way in which the narrator deals with his dying mother is harsh. But this harshness is also found in the life of the young boy. As I read this book, I was left wondering if the mother put her young son in the freezer to teach him a lesson or if it was the imagination of the young boy.
To me, this book works very well as it is about family. It could be about any family found in any place in the world. The eight year old narrator could be anyone's child. The author successfully uses everyday characters and situations and places which works and helped draw me into the book.
Did I find this book hard to read? Yes, I did. It was very disturbing and it left a deep impression in my mind which I will carry for a while. Despite this, I am glad that I finished this book and its ending did not let me down in any way. This book is not for the beach, neither is it a light read, but it is definitely worth the read.
This was Jon Bauer's first novel and I hope he writes more as I would find myself compelled to read them.