The Boy Under The Table
Allen & Unwin
Read from my TBR pile
Tina is just a girl struggling to survive. She ran away from heartbreak and trauma at fifteen, almost two years ago now, escaping the pain of losing her younger brother to cancer. Her mother’s new boyfriend turned out to be a religious fanatic, converting Tina’s mother and working tirelessly to convert Tina. He peppered every conversation with talk of God and Jesus and forgiveness and faith and prayer. Tina knows there’s not much to have faith in, not since Tim died. One day she got on a train and never looked back, finding herself in Sydney’s notorious Cross. Now she’s just like scores of other lost teens, turning tricks for a few bucks, struggling to find somewhere to sleep, to stay warm.
One day Tina does something she’s always been warned never to do. She accepts a lift into a customer’s house, where it’s warm, on a freezing cold winter’s night. That’s a sure fire way to end up even more of a statistic than she already is and she knows it’s stupid even as she’s doing it. She just wants her money and to get out but what she finds in that house will change her life.
In country NSW on a farm in Cootamundra, Doug and Sarah are just going through the motions. Four months ago their whole lives were utterly changed forever, a beautiful high when Sarah won a ribbon for her wedding cake at the Easter Show turning into a devastating low. Doug is the one that has to carry on, to be the man, to keep things going. Sarah is stuck in a horrible place where half the days see her unable to even muster up the energy to get out of bed. She knows she is failing their daughter Sammy but she just can’t change the way she is. The pain is too great and so is the other failure.
Last year my husband and I went to the Gold Coast on our honeymoon – well it was more of a family holiday as I was 19/20wks pregnant and we also had our 2.5yo with us. We took him to Sea World on one of the days, probably in the second week we were there and when we were waiting for the dolphin show to start, I went and sat down. My husband was lying in the sun across the road and our son was with him. Until suddenly my husband was in front of me, asking where our son was. I said that he’d been with him and my husband said that he had come across to me. Except he hadn’t come back to me, he’d gotten distracted and headed off in another direction. For less than 2 minutes, he was gone. My husband went one way, I went the other and people who were waiting with us found him in probably just over a minute. He wasn’t even aware that he was missing, he’d gone to have a look at a stationary monorail. And I cannot explain the panic, the fear that set in that moment I looked around and couldn’t see him. I suspect it’s something every other parent on the planet knows well, because they’ve all experienced it. And 99.99% of the time the child is found swiftly and everything is absolutely fine. The relief sets in and it becomes one of those stories you tell for humour.
This book is about the 0.01% when it does not end fine. When the child isn’t found. When everything changes forever.
As a parent, it’s impossible to watch your kids 24/7. There will be a time when you look away. There’ll be a time they dart ahead and are lost in a crowd. It’s just the way things are. For Doug and Sarah, this is what happens at the Easter Show, when Sarah is being presented with her ribbon. Doug wheels out her cake, Sarah accepts her ribbon and their two children are nearby, except that when they go back to the pram, only their daughter Samantha is there. From then on, her whole life changes. Her happiness fades and everything she has, all her hope revolves around one word: please.
The Boy Under The Table is gritty, disturbing realistic fiction grounded in amazingly real characters and a scenario that plays upon one of the greatest fears out there. This book is every nightmare you’ll ever have, every fear you’ll ever have involving your children wrapped up in one. But also at the same time, it’s more than that. It’s also about someone who ended up in a place she shouldn’t be, someone who didn’t turn around and walk away from something that didn’t concern her. It’s about someone who went back and helped and in one action forged an unlikely, beautiful friendship. There were many things that broke my heart in this book, many things that had me choked up and a scene that had me sobbing. The writing is simplistic and unadorned, but it is powerful and effective. It is a stark story, not always easy to read, not the sort of book that you slot onto a re-reads shelf, ready to pull down at a moment’s notice. But it is a fabulous book, it is something that should be read – it’s a story that will move you.
I felt for just about everyone in this book – for Doug and Sarah who looked away for sixty seconds and entered months of hell because of it, for Tina and the lot the world had dealt her, even the kids she hung with in the Cross. They were all there for a reason, all there because they’d been failed on some level, somehow. This book should feel more hopeless than it is, but there’s still somehow something beautiful through it, a story of people who lose things yes, but who also gain. Tina is an exceptional character. At seventeen she’s still partially a child but she’s also more adult than someone five times her age. She’s brave and strong and amazing. A character I don’t think I’ll forget.
Book #130 of 2012
The Boy Under The Table is the 46th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.