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Voyeurism and deceit dominate ‘The Stone Boy’

Some of the European press have mentioned Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 “Rear Window” when effusing about Sophie Loubière’s new book, The Stone Boy. It’s a simplistic comment but not a bad insinuation as to the voyeuristic element that predominates this psychological puzzler.

Elsa Préau was a peculiar child, as are most heroines who start out as children in books. She went to the right schools as expected, became a teacher then headmistress of a fashionable primary school in suburban Paris, had what amounted to a common-law marriage to her physician cousin and childhood playmate, which only tangentially contributed to her idiosyncrasy, gave birth to a son who went on to become a surgeon and the passive custodian of a mother who practiced a rectitude nettlesome enough to have her sanity continually questioned.

The Stone Boy takes up after Elsa’s retirement, after she moves back into the seat of power – now only slightly worse for wear as the unassailable family home of more predictable times.

She is a prig to the full extent of anyone’s patience, complete with vintage episodes of posturing all too picayune states of right and wrong. She even spent a little time – some seven years more than a little – reconsidering her life at a medical sanctuary after her unresolved complicity in the poisoning of her grandson. And now she’s living alone in the big house 30 years later, closer to her emotionally dependent son for regular Thursday night dinners but alarmingly close to neighboring houses and families that hadn’t used to be there.

Anyhow, conjure up a picture of this calculating, passively vindictive harridan, then suppose she observes through her kitchen window the neglect of one of the three neighbor’s children – ah, but the Desmoulins have only two children, Elsa was to be told on her undercover trip to the childrens’ school, none of the age allegedly seen being abused. But never mind, deceit is epidemic.

I can’t tell you more about The Stone Boy without spoiling the story. And the story – just like “Rear Window” – is what this performance is about. Sophie Loubière sucks the reader right into this kitchen, right over to that window overlooking Desmoulins’ back yard, close enough to Elsa to imagine clearly her lilac scent and noisome point of view.

Taking notes of life in a backyard outside a rear window surely portends trouble. Nobody, of course, will believe what you oversee, and in this case, Elsa is not exactly the most reliable witness.

You’ll distrust your own dog after you read this clever entrapment. The Stone Boy was released a couple of weeks ago in the U.S. with a marvelous translation by Nora Mahony and should be at Maria’s Bookshop and on the way to the library.

Buy this book, or make sure your library buys it. It’s a good read with the promise of long shelf life. And it’s published by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Book Group that is currently being discriminated against by Amazon for being unwilling to throw their authors under a bus in the service of Big Box’s insatiable appetite for more of everyone’s profit.

Jeff@jeffMannix.com. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

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