Child of My Heart

Child of My Heart
by Alice McDermott
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23, 242 pp.

The narrator of Child of My Heart sums up the story: "Petey, who always used to ask, challenging and pleading at the same time, ’Do you like me? Do you like my family?’ Who has wept with his fists tight. Who would be plagued all his life by anger and affection, by gifts gone awry, by the irreconcilable difference between what he got and what he longed for-by the inevitable, insufferable loss buried like a dark jewel at the heart of every act of love."

At least Petey’s still alive at the end of the story!

He is a restless little boy, a character in a summer idyll in which a cat is hit by a car, a dog is shot, the heroine loses her virginity, and her fairy-like cousin succumbs to a fatal disease and want of parental love. All this loss-of innocence, of dearly loved creatures-and yet, there is not a word of sentimentality or taste of treacle. On the contrary, Child of My Heart is a golden and luminous memory retrieved by a narrator who has achieved a cool and slightly ironic distance from one of those summers in the late fifties or early sixties-after Korea, before Vietnam.

The narrator is both the protagonist, fifteen-year-old Theresa, and the teller of the tale, an older, chastened Theresa, it would seem. The fifteen-year-old is the compleat child minder and child lover, the dream of every parent, the desire of every child. In this one summer, she has more or less complete charge of her cousin,...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.